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High Mileage Vehicle teams take designs to the finish line

Published May 16, 2023

They started by brainstorming designs, then created models with popsicle sticks and straws—before fabricating and testing a one-person vehicle designed not only with speed, but also fuel efficiency in mind.

That was the months-long process that brought the District 214 High Mileage Vehicle student teams to their final challenge: taking their vehicles around the track and comparing them to the work of other Midwestern high school and college teams. On the first day of May, the teams gathered at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet to test their designs, their driving skills and their ability to solve problems.

The event is sponsored annually by Wisconsin-based ChallengeUSA. The organization aims to bring manufacturing and engineering together in a real-life project for students, while also asking teams to focus on creating designs with better energy efficiency than today’s conventional autos. Awards are presented for vehicle design, braking and maneuverability as well as highest mileage.

Congratulations to the team from Rolling Meadows High School, which took second place overall and also second place in the design competition. Wheeling High School’s team took fifth place overall, and Hersey High School was tops in maneuverability.

But for the teachers who work with the High Mileage Vehicle teams during and after class, it’s not really about the awards. Said Wheeling’s Mike Geist, “We believe that each year we need to build a car from scratch. The real value for our students is seeing the process from beginning to end.

He said, “Many students who enter our classes have never used a screwdriver. They don’t even drive. So the learning curve is tremendous.”

Agreed RMHS teacher Anthony Genovese: “What makes this special is that it’s going from an idea in their head to a concept on a piece of paper—to producing a vehicle.”

Beyond just the technical skills—computer integrated design, metalwork, welding, fabrication and driving—the students are developing problem-solving and teamwork skills. “Throughout the process, they get to learn how to solve real problems in real time,” Geist said. “They create and build a vehicle, but usually it doesn’t work the first time, and they have to figure out what needs to be reworked.”

And then on track day, he said, “They need to work with a team on the fly. During the competition, you have a team of five students huddled around because something broke—and they have 10-15 minutes before the next run, and a limited amount of supplies with them. 

“Those are real problems that we can’t teach in the classroom.”

Geist and Genovese said it's also rewarding to see High Mileage Vehicle alumni remain connected to the work. This year, they ran into a former High Mileage Vehicle team member at the 2023 competition: District 214 graduate Victor Fuentes, now a High Mileage Vehicle teacher-sponsor himself at Maine South High School. And Geist is excited to welcome yet another former High Mileage Vehicle team member, Shayne Rayburn, to the automotive teaching team at Wheeling in the fall.