Wheat Ridge STEM ‘class functions like a company would’

Students talk about building hydrogen vehicles for national competition

Posted 4/24/19

Wheat Ridge High School’s STEM engineering program operates more like a business than a class. Walk to the lower level of the high school, and you’ll find three classrooms dedicated to the …

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Wheat Ridge STEM ‘class functions like a company would’

Students talk about building hydrogen vehicles for national competition

Posted

Wheat Ridge High School’s STEM engineering program operates more like a business than a class. Walk to the lower level of the high school, and you’ll find three classrooms dedicated to the program — a computer lab, a manufacturing lab and a conference room. Students aren’t in those rooms doing homework, or writing papers — they’re designing some of the nation’s best hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Wheat Ridge High School’s STEM engineering program competed in the Shell Eco-Marathon, a challenge to see which team can create the most efficient car that runs on hydrogen, in Sonoma, California earlier this month against high schools and universities from North America and South America. The school came to the challenge with two hydrogen fuel cell vehicles — an urban concept vehicle complete with blinkers, headlights, windshield wipers and turn signals, as well as a prototype vehicle designed for efficiency. The prototype did well, passing all of its engineering inspections, and finishing in second place, ahead of schools like Queens University and Duke University.

A vehicle built by students at Warren Tech took third place.

The STEM aspect of the program is vital, but there’s more to it. Students were responsible for reaching out to companies for sponsorship, and a social media team operates the program’s Facebook.

“This class functions like a company would. We have our bosses who we go to and report, but we are all self-motivated,” said Ali Helton, a junior who is part of the program. “It’s all student driven. It’s our motivation, not the teachers. It’s the talking to companies, learning how to communicate with our community, things that happen in the outside world. This class prepares us for that.”

One of those “bosses” who Helton referred to is Charles Sprague, the STEM and engineering-Shell instructor. Sprague founded the program five years ago, and he’s watched it grow from 16 to over 100 students.

“There’s an awful lot of the higher end soft skills that are needed in the real world to be successful. (Students) get to do that all down here, and they’ve done a good job,” said Sprague.

Wheat Ridge High School has taken home first place awards from the Shell Eco-Marathon twice in the past.

“When you’re in a core class, you do the homework, you hand it in, then you do the test. It’s a cycle,” said Caleb Coyne, a senior in the program. “When you take STEM, it’s that matter of meeting deadlines, and it’s trial and error. This class has built me to be more prepared for the future.”

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