By Frank Vascellaro

By Frank Vascellaro, WCCO-TV

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. (WCCO) The name “St. Thomas Academy” may bring to mind a number of things — great athletic teams, military training and faith-based education. You can add one more to the list. Wicked smart engineers.

Their entirely student-built solar car is sleek and looks pretty cool with the flames on the front, but it’s also sophisticated.

“We’re building a car to race down in Texas Motor Speedway,” said student Noveen Delaram.

The Experimental Vehicle Team at St. Thomas Academy is the only high school program of its kind in Minnesota. The students start from scratch, then design, build, test and compete with their solar-powered vehicle.

“We’re taking our top kids and were saying, ‘Let’s give you some real hands-on, real problem-solving activities where you’re not going to find the answer in the back of a text book. You’re going to have to try a whole bunch of things and see what works on what doesn’t,'” said physics teacher Mark Westlake.

The class is an elective, but students have to try out and be accepted on the team. And they’d better bring their “A” game.

“This equation is just from physics, it’s for sound shift as your moving either towards or away from an object,” said student Tayler Burns.

The program’s been around for 12 years. During that time, cadets have built and competed with a number of different vehicles. While it’s great to win, there’s also another philosophy in the workshop.

“It’s good for kids to fail. I don’t think we let kids fail enough,” said Westlake.

“Seeing something that you’re building come to life from something as meager as just these bars to something that runs and is cooking down the track and making those turns, beating out the opponents, that really is a really good feeling for you,” said student Kevin Mealey.

“It helps with just everyday skills like figuring out how things work. It’s like another class even though it’s just like a sports team,” said Delaram.

The team competes for 11 months out of the year. They build the car, take it on the road and compete with it around the U.S.

Students on the team are well-rounded, participating in things like music and football.


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