Medved Wheat Ridge Sponsors Wheat Ridge high school STEM program
We get a lot of sponsorship requests, and we do our best to honor them. Some are one-time things, some are annual. Whenever possible we combine sponsorships with opportunities from our manufacturers like the Chevy Youth Sports program we partnered with Arvada Junior Baseball on, or the Ford DriveOne4UR School/ Community events we have hosted with Castle View high school, Douglas County high school, and CALF (Colorado Agricultural Leadership Foundation).
For the last two years we’ve been sponsoring the Wheat Ridge high school STEM program. It all started when a student sent the following request:
I am a student in the STEM Engineering class at Wheat Ridge High School. This past year our team built a hydrogen fuel cell prototype car and entered it in the Shell Eco-marathon. The Shell Eco-marathon is a fuel efficiency competition and we won the hydrogen category of the competition. This school year, we are planning on building two hydrogen fuel cell cars to enter into the Shell Eco-marathon. We have to fundraise all the money we need to build the car and travel to Detroit where the competition will be held this year. We were wondering if Medved would be interested in sponsoring our team for our 2015-2016 school year.
We already had a relationship with Wheat Ridge high school which is a stone’s throw from our Wheat Ridge location. The fact that the students were building cars made it a no-brainer.
Last month I finally made it to the school to check out the program in person. At 7:30 on a Tuesday morning I arrived at the school and was soon after greeted by the program director, Charles Sprague, and a group of well-spoken students. They showed me their past prototypes which were proudly displayed in the school lobby and explained the construction. They made the carbon fiber pieces, printed the steering wheel, wired all the electrical—did everything.
We went to their lab to see where some of the magic happens. Stacks of already-machined foam molds covered a table and materials in various stages of completion were grouped by project. While this program started with a single hydrogen fuel cell car they now have multiple projects, including a Mars Rover they will test out in Alabama.
One student who aspires to be a machinist demonstrated how to load code into the machine and program it to cut out foam molds which would later be used to make the carbon fiber pieces.
When I asked these students what they were thinking after high school I was amazed at their responses. What does the path to being a machinist today look like? Do you need a degree for that? An apprenticeship? Are there any people or companies you can start shadowing now? Or what kind of engineer do you want to be, in which industry or space do you hope to be involved?
One of the first students I met is interested in working in the automotive space with renewables. While his father works at nearby NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) he wasn’t interested in the track just because it’s what his dad does; but rather because he’s already helped build a hydrogen fuel cell car—and he likes it. He has been looking into how he might be able to intern or log some hours at NREL.
I had an awesome conversation with a senior girl who is working on setting up an internship with Tesoro in Alaska (I think she knows someone who works there?) before coming back to Colorado and starting out at Red Rock Community College and eventually transferring to Colorado School of Mines or Colorado State University for mechanical engineering. Her plan seemed solid, feasible, even financially responsible.
I saw capable, engaged students who were already logging some serious real-world experience in the computer lab and the shop. They had concrete –and not to place any limits on anyone—but realistic plans for the future, and they were all self-starters. Not once did the teacher have to tell someone to settle down and get to work, or to put his/her phone away.
Above are just my first impressions or observations from the outside, but in the words of some of the students in the program:
I am a junior at Wheat Ridge High School and Project Manager for the NASA Human Powered Rover Challenge. In STEM, as a freshman I was a team member for the Shell Eco-marathon prototype car, and my sophomore year I was Project Manager and led the body/frame team for the Shell Eco-marathon prototype. Since freshman year, the STEM program has enriched my high school experience by teaching me not just skills such as CAD design and carbon fiber layups, but also soft skills such as leadership, teamwork, and problem solving.
I am a senior and lead designer and driver of the solar car. As well as driver of the UCD HPV (Human Powered Vehicle). Through this class I have not only learned the basics of design and engineering but I have also learned about business and communication. These skills will help me not only in college but in life as well.
I’m a junior. I work on the UCD HPV (Human Powered Vehicle) and the Urban Concept car. This class gave me and continues to give me incredible opportunities that I would not have anywhere else. I have new ways of learning that are practical and make sense.
I’m a junior and project manager on the UCD human powered car. It is a chance to meet new people and learn things that normal high schoolers don't get to.
How’s that for a cover letter or interview question response? And not just because it’s resume material- these students are all getting a chance to DO engineering before they commit the next four years and however much money to the endeavor. In fact, there were a few students in the STEM program that were doing more seemingly marketing tasks like building the program a new website, or organizing the social media campaigns and sponsorship relations. These students entered the program thinking they would love the engineering part only to discover their interests and talents are elsewhere, but they were still able to contribute.
I’m not saying every student SHOULD know exactly what [s]he wants to be in high school. Jobs and the job market are changing every year and even month it seems. While STEM students generally have more of a technical trajectory some want to go into “engineering” the same way other students might want to go into “business” or “marketing.” Unfortunately, these fields often remain nebulous and remote until after the student has completed an undergraduate degree. By then he/she might not even like the field.
Lest I ramble more and to bring it full-circle, we’re always happy to help out. Yet after seeing this program in action—seeing these students participating in this incredible bridge between education and application and knowing that we played a tiny part in it—we’re actually honored to help out this time.