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Power Drive racer 2004
Student-funded, designed and built electric racer teaches many valuable lessons and helps formulate plans for future careers. Scores of small, battery-powered EVs like this one are built in high schools across the state of Nebraska, and in similar programs all over the world

Power Drive Propels Future Careers

Student scholarship essays reveal aspirations for a brighter tomorrow

By Bill Moore

It's been seven years since the first PowerDrive when twelve high schools in eastern Nebraska decided to participate in a good-spirited competition pitting their nascent engineering skills against one another in an endurance race powered by 64 pounds of lead-acid batteries. Modelled after Electrathon competitions in number of other states, the program has grown now to include some seventy high schools and as many cars.

Photo Album

Click here to see photos from 2004 Power Drive finals, held May 5 near Omaha, Nebraska.

It was my privilege to introduce the idea of electrathon racing to my local power company, who have enthusiastically supported the program ever since, eventually bringing other sponsors and winning the backing of the state's Board of Education.

In addition to funding the program and organizing the competition in numerous venues around the state, OPPD and NPPD fund a college scholarship program worth $1000. It's a small but meaningful effort to help deserving PowerDrive participants begin their college careers; and for some of he applicants, it's the difference between attending college or not.

I am privileged to be one of the individuals who evaluates some of the applications, which include letters of support from their teachers and program advisors. In addition, each student has to write a short essay on what they've learned from the PowerDrive program and why I are applying for the scholarship. I thought I'd share a few of their essays with you because they are illustrative of the value of the PowerDrive program and the difficulties facing America's rural farm youth, especially in a time of prolonged drought.

Michael Easler from Elkhorn, Nebraska began his essay this way.

"The first race of the year just ended. Here I sit at my computer, tired, sun burnt and completely content. Today was awesome. It was sixty five and sunny down in Hastings, and our cars got fourth place in the advanced class and second in exhibition. Although I only worked on the advanced car this year, I felt a deep pride in the exhibition class. I designed that car four years ago as a freshman, new to Elkhorn High School and the Power Drive program."

"I spent hours designing and building that car, learning how to weld, wire and grind as good as the best of the seniors. We ended up placing that year at the state race. It was a wonderful feeling to know that a car that you built, that you designed and struggled to bring to life, could do so well. That day at state it was like a door opened in my head. Suddenly I saw the possibility of a career in engineering. At the time it was just an idea, but as I built more cars, raced them and won, it became more and more of a reality.

"As this year progress, I was able to see that we had a great thing going for us. The A-45 (car) could quite possibl(y) win state. And this got me to thinking. I want to be an engineer, but what type? I thought of careers like biomedical and architectural engineering, but I looked at the powerful homemade machine in front of me and thought seriously for the first time about automotive engineering, and, more than that, automotive engineering with an emphasis on environmental impact and safety. Power Drive cars run for an hour on seven cents of electricity. And high school students built them. I started to see the amazing possibilities ahead in a green America of tomorrow. Power Drive taught me to lead through example and steered me down a path that I am willing to spend the rest of my life pursuing with passion."

Josh Behrends of Rural Route One, Auburn, Nebraska began his essay with, "Gentlemen, start your engines!" Metaphorically speaking, this is how the O.P.P.D. Power Drive Program has impacted my life. It has accelerated my enthusiasm and desire to pursue a career in the engineering field. My experience with the Power Drive Program has increased my working knowledge of physics, electricity, welding, geometry and basic mechanical applications. It has increased my sense of responsibility and confidence. Through working on our project I have learned the necessity of setting goals, following procedures, and revising plans as necessary, until the task is successfully completed. I have learned from mistakes and strived to find solutions to problems... With these skills I hope to make a positive impact on my community and improve the quality of life. Perhaps in the future, when you turn on your lights or fill up your hybrid vehicle with alternative fuel, this young man from Johnson, Nebraska, may have had a role in developing that technology."

Brandon Smith from Brock, Nebraska acknowledged, "Before I began this program, I was clueless as to what career I wanted to pursue. It wasn't until the class began that I had truly found what interested me. The planning, drafting, and construction process struck me as what I wanted to be doing in the future. Prior to this, I viewed a mechanical engineering career as a dull and boring career path. If it had not been for the Power Drive program, I would never have even decided to consider what I now plan to major in. The Power Drive program has not only been an excellent learning experience, it has been the factor that made me choose my path for the future."

Adam Reif was brief and to the point, stating, "I plan to become an agricultural engineer to design better working, more efficient, and all around safer farm equipment. Farm equipment these days are getting safer but they are still dangerous to farmers. There are mishaps and accidents that happen everyday on a farm from either faulty equipment or just operator error because of the difficulty to run the machine. My goal is to make all farm equipment error proof in every aspect."

Robert Zoubeck of Western, Nebraska highlighted the environmental benefits of electric-drive vehicles writing, "Power Drive also teaches us the great ideas of using alternative power sources. With Power Drive, we are better able to use electricity to power your vehicles, which creates no pollution, and is less harmful to th environment. Using electricity as an alternative power source, we are able to understand how one day this might power our own vehicles, which give us the basic concept of how to design and perfect our way of life."

While some applicants aspire to higher academic achievements, some see perfection in the simplicity of rural life. For Kyle Kohout of Friend, his ambition is to "work toward my own workshop where I could farm on the side. This would be my Utopia."

While one student plans to attend Harvey Mudd College, a top engineering school in southern California, most plan to attend either the University of Nebraska or a local community college, largely for economic reasons. For all, skyrocketing tuitions present a real challenge, especially for family farms caught in the fifth year of a drought.

One applicant admitted, "Throughout the past four years the drought has cut our family's income in about half. My parents will be unable to help me a whole lot with my college expenses."

Another began his response, "I am applying for the Power Drive Scholarship because it could help me with the overwhelming burden of trying to finance college. The scholarship could help tremendously with the high priced tuition that I will be facing."

He concluded, "Getting this scholarship will help me become the first person in my family to complete college and give me a chance to pursue my future dreams," which include someday taking over the family farm."

Every time I read these essays and try to score them, I wish there were a way to help every one of these young people, all of whom have demonstrated extraordinary drive, leadership and responsibility. Sadly, only two can be awarded a scholarship, so the job of picking the top candidates is always difficult.

It is very satisfying, however, to know that a program I helped inspire -- I am now considered the "grandfather" of the Power Drive in Nebraska -- has had such a beneficial impact on the lives of so many young people, though most of the credit goes to OPPD/NPPD and the dedicated instructors at each school. Obviously, the appreciation goes both ways, however as illustrated by the concluding comment of Darren Naslund of Coleridge.

"Once again I would just like to thank all the people that make the Power Drive Program exist. You people a large impact on young adult lives. I know you made a huge one on mine. Thank you."

Times Article Viewed: 13670
Published: 15-May-2004

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