Alumnus uses cars to teach competition and cooperation

November 28, 2012
By Christine Urbowicz

For Steve Garrett ’85, teaching classes such as drafting, electronics and applied physics at Topsail High School in Hampstead, N.C., has been a part of his everyday routine for the past 26 years. However, when asked about his true passion, Garrett will tell you his love comes in the form of an electric vehicle.

Twelve years ago, Garrett formed Topsail High School’s Electric Vehicle Program, and approximately 125 students have been through the program since then. Each year, about ten students enroll in Garrett’s class and meet for an hour each day before school to work on the vehicle and prepare for the Electric Vehicle Challenge at the N.C. Center for Automotive Research (NCCAR) facility in Garysburg, N.C.

Having the program available to high school students is an expensive endeavor that requires the help of community partners. For every car that is converted into an electric vehicle, an average of $12,000 is needed.

Garrett’s students work to collect all of the funds needed through fundraising, raffles and sponsorships from local businesses. A total of five vehicles have been purchased or donated to the program. This year, students received a 1991 Toyota MR2 and a 2001 Ford Ranger Edge to use in competition.

On a typical morning, students have a briefing with Garrett to establish goals. Then, the work begins. Teams within the group work independently to achieve the goals of converting the vehicle and spend much of their time maintaining or repairing current conversions. Once students begin working on the vehicle, the goal is to remove the internal combustion engine and replace it with electric power.

“During the year, the goal is to provide students with the opportunity to work as a team and become successful in competitions,” Garrett said in an interview conducted by email. “I want to teach them to convert gas-powered vehicles to electric power while learning teamwork and engineering practices that are needed to complete a conversion.”

While in Roanoke Rapids for the Electric Vehicle Challenge, Garrett’s students compete in seven different categories, including Oratorical, Troubleshooting, Vehicle Design, Range, Community Involvement and Electric Vehicle Jeopardy.

On October 22, the Topsail High School team was recognized as the most organized and most motivated group and came home with 10 trophies in a variety of categories. Topsail High School has received 162 trophies since they began competing in 1999.

“The competition is an amazing, comprehensive competition,” Garrett says. “My students always strive to win, but at the same time, help other schools. When necessary if other schools do not have enough team members to fill an event, we will offer students to fill them in so they can compete.”

Seeing his students succeed has been the most rewarding part of his experience in the electric vehicle program. Upon completing the program, Garrett has seen many of his students continue on to universities, enroll in community colleges and continue their work on electric vehicles in the industry. Twenty-five have gone on to become a part of the Wolfpack family and two have received Park scholarships.

“Without a solid foundation, you have nothing to build upon,” Garrett says.


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