COURTESY OF MARTIN EMDE / SEABURY HALL
Seabury Hall students Brian Park, left, JJ West, Nathan Hara, Andrew Kloppel, Aimi Watanabe, Tiana Barbier, Ryan Furtado and Korena Burgio converted a 1988 Toyota Corolla into an electric car over the past school year. Missing students are Deborah Silverman and Aldam Istvan.
10 Maui students engineer electric car
Seabury Hall seniors successfully convert a gas-powered vehicle
Building a car that runs on electricity with $10,000 in seed money was a daunting assignment for 10 Maui high school seniors, most of whom had never touched a power drill.
But a Seabury Hall engineering class passed their finals with flying colors when they turned an old gas-guzzling station wagon into a snappy, bright yellow, battery-operated model of environmental friendliness.
Last year, math and science teacher Martin Emde won the Toyota TAPESTRY award of $10,000, recognizing him for excellence and innovation in education. He used the money to buy tools that enabled this year's class, co-taught by Gilson Killhour, to convert a donated 1988 Toyota wagon into a car that runs on 12 car batteries.
"It was a celebration," said student Tiana Barbier about the first time the class turned on the ignition in May. "There was a smile on every face. It was really exciting!" The engine gave out a "soft little purr" and floated along the road quietly "like a ghost," she added.
Andrew Kloppel, project co-manager, described its yellow and black chassis as "pretty sharp."
"It was really gratifying to be such a big part of the entire project," said Kloppel, the only student with experience working on cars.
"We had to fabricate everything from scratch -- from the motor mount to the dashboard plate," Kloppel said.
The car can go up to 60 mph and runs for about 25 to 45 miles per charge. The car can be plugged into any electrical wall socket and be ready to run in five to six hours, he said.
It was such a reward for Emde, "witnessing how the students (were) so empowered by the time the project (was) over ... to see them marvel in their accomplishments," he said.
"When sitting in it or driving it, they can say: 'That's our car, I know exactly how it works. I did this thing -- this is how I contributed to it,' " he added.
As opposed to memorizing data from a textbook, he said, the hands-on experience with engineering and design "at this age level is huge. They won't get this kind of exposure till they find a job. They got to find out early if engineering is for (them). A couple will pursue engineering as a career as a result of this class, and that makes me happy."
While other individuals and schools may have already built electric go-carts in Hawaii and on the mainland, Emde believes Seabury Hall is the first school to build a full-sized passenger vehicle.
In addition to the $10,000 grant, the students raised another $4,000, but major donors contributed a significant amount. Servco Toyota on Oahu donated the car; the Kahului branch of International House of Pancakes, a monetary award; NAPA, tools and parts; and Young Brothers shipped the car to Maui, Emde said.