Driven to win

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 Illustration by Alexandra Nelipa

Illustration by Alexandra Nelipa

Students construct energy-efficient car.

By Alexis D. Vega

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

This college’s chapter of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists is building a hydrogen fuel cell car to zoom into the Motor City for a competition in April.

The students will compete in the Shell Eco Marathon Completion of the Americas April 22-24 in Detroit. MAES is made up of 20 students.

Dominic Ochoa, team leader for the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car project, began recruiting students for the team in August. Ochoa put together a proposal and presented it to the faculty.

The team is building an energy-efficient vehicle to compete against others from around the world. The car must be designed, built and driven by the students.

The eco-friendly car, which can only seat a driver, will weigh about 150 pounds, excluding the driver.

Although the car seems small, its benefits are big. The car releases steam as the by-product instead of carbon dioxide.

Hydrogen as fuel, Ochoa said, is pretty sweet.

“Hydrogen is one of the most abundant substances on the planet,” he said. “Using it as a fuel is a no-brainer.”

“The most enjoyable part is definitely not the process, because it’s pretty grueling. The final product, once you see the car come to life, it’s driving under its own power and you look back on all the things you learned and all the skills you developed and got better at. That’s what makes it worth it.”

MAES built a car that ran on solar energy before, but this is the first time the organization will compete. From research to design and running the car, students are using skills they learned in classes, such as engineering graphics, while other skills came from hands-on work on the car.

“The most challenging part is actually not the engineering. It’s the other things like the fund-raising that we are still doing,” Ochoa said.

MAES has invested $15,000 into the car’s fuel cell system alone. “It’s a very expensive piece of technology,” Ochoa said.

The money is from grants and donation, he said. The organization is looking to raise an additional $8,000 to start building the car and complete the project.

MAES members are submitting proposals to companies in and around San Antonio. MAES is hoping to assemble the frame by the end of February and have it completed in mid-April.

Although most of the students working on this eco-friendly car are STEM majors, the team invites students from all degree programs.

“We welcome anyone and everyone who wants to come,” Ochoa said. “The way we operate is more so an engineering interest group, so even if they’re business majors or you just have an interest, they are more than welcome to join.”

Communication or business majors, for example, could help promote and market the team. “There is a spot open for them if they’re willing to work,” he said.

The organization is not only building the car but also working to build the community of San Antonio.

In October, the organization invited children to this college for an educational program. MAES members as well as MESA Center members showed them experiments and discussed research to engage their interest in STEM programs. The MESA — or Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement — Center provides resources such as tutoring, peer mentors, undergraduate research support and travel for students at this college.

MESA Center Coordinator Analisa Sengele said, “My favorite part is the guest speakers we are able to bring and field trips we are able to take the students on. It’s nice to take them to experience things related to their degrees. It helps to confirm to the student that they are in the correct field for them. It’s a lot of fun.”

The MESA Center provides about two trips a semester for members. In April, geology Professor Anne Dietz will lead a trip to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.

“Not only will it be fun but also educational,” Sengele said.

MESA also provides one-on-one peer mentoring. Although STEM students are the demographic for MESA, the center welcomes students of all academic fields.

The MESA Center is open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday in Room 204A of Chance Academic Center. Membership to MAES or the MESA Center is free to all students, but members must meet certain requirements once they join.

Visit alamo.edu/sac/MESA/ or call 210-486-1825.

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