WMU News

Six high schoolers join Sunseeker race team

June 25, 2005

KALAMAZOO--Paw Paw High School senior Alexander Hessler has been hooked on solar cars since sixth grade, and now he's fulfilling the vow he made years ago as he watched collegiate solar racers leave the starting line in Washington, D.C., to chase the sun to Orlando Fla.

Hessler is one of six Kalamazoo-area students who have been selected to be members of Western Michigan University's Sunseeker solar racing team. The team is preparing to make its eighth cross-country run in the biennial American Solar Challenge, which begins July 17 in Austin, Texas, and concludes 10 days and 2,500 miles later in Calgary, Alberta.

For Hessler, who wants to become a chemical engineer one day, the chance to be part of the team has been a dream come true. The summer before sixth grade, his grandparents took him to Washington to see the start of the 1999 solar race, which included an earlier version of the WMU car. A steady downpour that day didn't dampen his enthusiasm.

"I saw all of those students working on their cars, and I knew I wanted to do that when I got older," Hessler says.

His chance came this spring when WMU engineering officials opened up membership to a select number of local high school students interested in learning about solar energy.

"The community has always been behind us in these solar races, and we've been highly visible, testing the cars on city streets and visiting schools," says Fred Z. Sitkins, professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering and Sunseeker team advisor. "This year, we wanted to find a way to give back and help get some young minds involved so they could take the car and the concept back to their schools in the fall."

To apply for Sunseeker team membership, students needed to complete a 200-word essay explaining why they wanted to be involved and what they could contribute to the Sunseeker project. They also needed a letter of recommendation from one of their high school teachers. Sitkins says the high school students involved are accomplishing a variety of team tasks from actually building the car to working on the team's Web site.

After the race is over, the seven high school students selected will become community ambassadors and will be expected to present information about the Sunseeker experience at their respective schools and at other community events. The presentations may include demonstrating the vehicle itself.

"We were looking for kids who were passionate about the chance to work on this project and we certainly found it in these six," Sitkins says. "These kids are working alongside the college students and fitting right in."

In addition to Hessler, the other students selected are:

Kevin Dugal, a senior at the Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center;

Lindsay Hatter, a senior at KAMSC and Loy Norrix High School;

Danielle M. O'Connell, a senior at Portage Northern High School;

Tom Platte, a senior at Hackett Catholic Central High School; and

David Tindle, a senior at Loy Norrix High School.

Related article
Sunseeker ready for North American Solar Challenge

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

WMU News
Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
269 387-8400