Andrew Epperson / Mustang News

Unpredictable weather did not interfere with the long awaited Prototype Vehicle (PROVE) Laboratory outreach program’s race. During the course of a year, Cal Poly students mentored local middle schoolers and taught them how to build a solar-paneled car.

On Thursday, the three middle schools — Mesa Middle School, Los Osos Middle School and El Camino Junior High School — came together to demonstrate the skills they learned.

While weather prevented the cars from being powered by the sun, PROVE mentors improvised by lighting the race track with borrowed lamps and a generator.

“I think we kind of pulled together a great engineering solution, which was a good example for the kids,” aerospace engineering senior and PROVE Lab outreach leader Thomas Rohrbach said.

In the end, The Blur, a team from Mesa Middle School, walked away with the top speed of three feet and 32 inches in 4.7 seconds. They were rewarded with a one-week internship this summer where they will help work on PROVE Lab’s main car.

“The most beautiful moment for me was walking into the lab and seeing kids whose cars had [cracked] or something wasn’t quite fitting right, and they were all just huddled around the car with the tools,” Rohrbach said. “I think they took the most out of that experience. It wasn’t racing the cars, that was just a fun little test.”

The outreach program was spearheaded by aerospace engineering assistant professor Graham Doig when the PROVE Lab was awarded the American Honda Foundation grant for education.

“Our goal was to target underrepresented populations in STEM education or STEM careers,” liberal studies senior and outreach team co-lead Amanda Wong said. “So basically, what that means is we tried to look for students [who] don’t always have those opportunities.”

Even with this in mind, mentors were faced with challenges they had not expected, such as different student’s exposure to algebra and interest in STEM. It was as much of a learning experience for Cal Poly mentors as it was for the middle school students.

“It takes time to understand learning and how it does affect people differently and how they learn,” Los Osos teacher and program advisor Greg Wilcox said. “So I think the Cal Poly students learned that aspect of it for sure, that planning or instructing students, it doesn’t matter who they are, requires extra time built into the planning process.”

Even though the grant funding ended, Wilcox looks forward to continuing a relationship between Cal Poly and middle school students. According to Rohrbach, they missed the deadline for the American Honda Foundation grant for the next year, but are hoping to take that time to assess how they can better the program for the future.

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