Bald Eagle

On Centre: Bald Eagle Area | Middle school girls place in Great Solar/Hybrid Car Challenge

They may not be able to drive yet, but these Bald Eagle Area middle school girls turned in some nifty racing performances.

The Girls Active in Math, Engineering and Science, or GAMES, team fared well in the 13th Great Solar/Hybrid Car Challenge held May 22 at the State College branch of the YMCA of Centre County.

Sponsored by KidTech, a State College-based nonprofit charitable organization, the competition gives local middle school students the chance to design, build and race solar/battery-powered hybrid cars.

Eight Centre County public and private middle schools participated. BEA entered the only all-girl team.

BEA’s 13 students, all sixth- and seventh-graders grouped into smaller teams, constructed five shoe box-sized cars, all of which qualified for judging in eight categories. Overall, 54 cars qualified.

Last year, BEA’s first participating in the competition, two of its cars didn’t make it past the qualifying stage, where entries had to travel a set distance in the YMCA’s outdoor skating rink without veering out of bounds.

“This year, (BEA’s cars) all qualified, which is really amazing,” said Kathy Gee, a BEA physics and engineering teacher who advises the GAMES team.

“The girls worked so hard on the cars. For most of them, it was the first time they had built anything like that.

Three BEA teams made it to semi-final stages, and one took home a couple of awards.

Elita Brown and Elissa Russell, both sixth-graders, placed first in the “straightest car” category, turning in a winning run of 83 feet along a foot-wide track. They also earned second in the “fastest car” race — not too shabby considering they had to rebuild their car the night before the competition.

Other GAMES team members were Lauren Fisher, Taylor Kilmer, Morgan Lucas, Courtney Metz, Paige Murgas, Makayla Sampson, Emily Shiels, Vanessa Stasko, Julia Thompson, Lauren Wellar and Miranda Yeager.

A grant from the local American Association of University Women chapter funds the team.

Students participating in the challenge receive a free kit of basic materials that includes a 12-volt solar panel, a solar motor, a gear set with a motor shaft, wheels, axles and battery straps.

Using any materials they wished, including wood, foam core and balsa strips, BEA’s girls then built their cars over six weeks, at weekly after-school gatherings as well as at an emergency, last-minute session on May 21. One car even sported Mason jar lids for wheels.

Students also took a trip to Penn State to learn about soldering, gear ratios and other useful topics.

“They got a chance to explore and work with actual engineering students on campus, which they really enjoyed as well,” Gee said.

Gee said the students loved their experience so much, they want to continue building hybrid solar cars and enter next year’s competition. She appreciates seeing girls smitten with science, the goal of starting the GAMES team last year.

“We were so excited, definitely,” Gee said. “They have so much energy and enthusiasm. It’s such a great group of girls.”