Oregon Solar Car Team nabs second place in annual national competition

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — The Oregon Solar Car Team, a group of teens from four Central Oregon high schools, just did something remarkable. They fundraised for their own solar-powered car and then built it from scratch, soldering every wire, tightening every bolt and connecting every solar panel joint by joint.

“I remember the first time the car drove under its own power,” said Ethan Campbell. “That was one of the most crazy and adrenaline-filling things for me.”

Once the car was finished, they carted it off to Texas for a showdown with dozens of other teams from around the U.S. in the annual Solar Car Challenge.

“I’m just super proud of our team and what we’ve accomplished,” said Caden Cooper.

Within the first few days, the field was whittled down through a vigorous inspection process known as “scutineering.” One misstep, and the car would be disqualified. Only after passing that test did they earn the right to race, in stages, from Texas to California.

The team was in second place in their division when an outbreak of COVID shut down this year’s race in El Paso on the third day. Not wanting to just pack up and return home, the Oregon team did what they’ve done all along: they improvised.

“We found two real racetracks that would let us come and use their track in the middle of Arizona,” Cooper said.

Resiliency is what the team’s advisor, Bend Trinity Lutheran Science Teacher Tom Steuve, said he tries to instill in his kids.

“The students on my team become master problem solvers,” he said. “You have to make decisions that are canceling out other decisions; you have to just decide. You have to make quick, just really important decisions really fast.”

Steuve, who has led the the project for 16 years, said he steers the conversations, but the students do all the engineering, the assembly and planning for race day throughout the year.

“Everything I just described is a senior-level project in college these (high school) kids have already done,” Steuve said.

Several of the seniors on this year’s team are headed to college for engineering. And the team will rebuild with the next group of underclassmen in the fall.

You can catch of a glimpse of the Oregon Solar Car during OMSI’s Festival of Science on Sept. 16 and 17.

Chris McGinness is a meteorologist and reporter for KGW News. Find him here and on social media: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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