May 22, 2024

DEVC Education Outreach: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going

About eight years ago, I came across an internet posting for a meeting of the Denver Electric Vehicle Council. As a retired shop/applied tech teacher, I had been curious about EVs and decided to attend the meeting. I had purchased a 1998 Nissan Frontier truck (minus the engine) a few years before for $150 off Craigslist with the idea of converting it into an EV. Students in the autobody repair program at Boulder TEC where I had taught had added a tilt bed and a new shiny new coat of black paint. I introduced myself at the DEVC meeting and within five minutes, David McNeil (spiritual leader of the DEVC) asked me if I was interested in creating a DEVC youth program. Just say no, I remember thinking. But then the wheels started turning in my head! Hmmm…how cool would it be to get students involved in building EVs! It’s where clean energy transportation is headed. Students will be in the consumer market in the near future, looking for a vehicle. The vast majority of the population have no idea how EVs work. There are very few votech/career and technical education programs that certify EV technicians. I had never heard about a public school science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program offering a course on EVs. I could teach a fun class and wouldn’t have to go to faculty meetings. “How much money do you have to start a youth program David?”, I asked. “Nothing.”, he replied. I was hooked.

As a shop teacher, I was used to magically producing a class with very limited resources. In some ways, I took it as a challenge, especially if students were involved in the planning and coming up with ideas to fund the endeavor. I called my friend Derek Barger (racing battery innovator and owner of High Tech Systems) and told him about the idea. “Hey Derek…we have no money, no tools, no facility, no supplies/materials, no EVs…just an idea. Wanna help start an EV Club for middle school kids?” With Derek on board, we cobbled together some resources (EV scooters from dumpsters, Chinese golf carts, a minibike, a three wheeled trike, electric bicycles). I approached a Boulder Valley Schools principal (and a former shop teacher ), John McCluskey, with the idea to hold Saturday morning STEM classes in the school cafeteria. A small donation from parents would help us buy the parts needed to try to get the EVs to run. Kids whose parents couldn’t afford a donation got in free. We emptied our own pockets for needed supplies. In the two years we ran the pilot program, every class was filled with STEM-curious kids who wanted to learn more about how EVs worked. We teamed up with Boulder HS robotics team members (from teacher Dan Zahner’s DaVinci Lab) who acted as mentors to our middle school kids. DEVC members pitched in to work with student teams. We scrounged tools and supplies and begged for old batteries. We flew by the seat of our pants with these young future engineers providing the enthusiasm. Hands-on STEM at its finest.

Our mission became clearer as time went on. We had to standardize the program with interchangeable parts instead of our dumpster/Craigslist finds. We had to incorporate similar EVs and come up with a reproduceable curriculum. Soon after, a new principal came on board and we lost our free classroom space. But we knew we had an idea that would motivate kids, the kids with mechanical curiosity whose eyes lit up as their successfully repaired EV glided silently across the cafeteria.

The years following our successful EV Club pilot program have been devoted to fundraising, developing a working prototype and gathering the materials needed to produce four, plug and play EV minibikes. Rich Kenders came on board as our lead engineer and is supporting the technical side of EV Club. We’ve backed off our Spring 2020 program offering until 2021. In the meantime, various EV angels have appeared to keep the dream afloat. I met Steve Fuller at the recycling center in Boulder when I noticed his EV bike business sign on his van and I struck up a conversation. He has since donated his entire leftover stock of scooters and bikes from his storage locker to EV Club and the DEVC after he retired from his business in Boulder. We are now offering his new/old stock and gently used scooters and bikes for sale (with a non-profit tax deduction for your donation) to DEVC members and friends. The money from these sales with help keep EV Club going in the near future. Once we have EV Club back on-line and in a classroom environment, we’ll pursue sponsorships and grants to keep us going. We have discussed STEM teacher workshops in the future.

If you have an idea for a classroom location in the Boulder area, you are interested in a future sponsorship or have grant sources, please let us know. We greatly appreciate the support from the DEVC Board and all our members who have volunteered their time and money to keep EV Club going.

Designated donations through PayPal can be made with the Donate button below! Your contribution of a few bucks makes a big difference, especially for scholarships.

Stay tuned for more news as our tooling-up phase continues.

Thanks… Dave Pence, DEVC Education Outreach Coordinator.