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Liberty Solar Car heading Down Under

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Liberty Christian student takes the solar car for a spin.
Liberty Christian student takes the solar car for a spin.

Liberty Christian students are busy building a new solar car with a main frame given to them by Iowa State University in preparation for the World Solar Challenge in Australia this fall.

Guiding them in the project is solar car sponsor and teacher Dr. Brent Dragoo, who began teaching 7th grade robotics at Liberty four years ago. Those seventh graders are now sophomores working on the school’s sixth solar car.

Iowa State is one of the many college campuses that enter the World Solar Challenge – a challenge that, to date, only six high schools in the U.S. have attempted.

But to Dr. Dragoo, taking his winning team the next step seemed the logical thing to do.

“It’s a great opportunity in learning hands-on engineering,” says sophomore Clayton Odom. Dr. Dragoo agrees, adding students will see the top competitors in solar cars and have an opportunity to meet and talk to the designers as well as see the competition slated for October. And, while in Australia, the group plans on taking in the sights.

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With the donation from Iowa State, Dr. Dragoo and the students are working with a solar car that has a shorter wheelbase which allows for more maneuverability. The team of about 12-15 students work on the project in a shop equipped with tools and parts from previous solar cars on campus. The car will be designed to compete in the World Solar Challenge but will be built according to high school-level rules to allow the car to be used in competition at that level, Dr. Dragoo said.

Dr. Dragoo confers with teams from other universities like Stanford, Michigan and Iowa State to learn more about their cars in an effort to help his team meet the challenge. He has also begun working with Peterbilt Motors in Denton, which offered their help, and CoServ, which has been a major sponsor since the first solar car.

“The biggest help has been the parents and local business people,” Dr. Dragoo said.

The group is hoping to raise $100,000 for the trip to cover expenses for their travel as well as shipping the vehicle two months before the race. Currently, they are about a quarter of the way toward their goal. By March 1, the group has to pay a $10,000 registration fee.

On Jan. 17, the school held a charnival – combination charity and carnival – where the team will get to be its own charity. Mothers of the team members and Dr. Dragoo’s wife, Dr. Sherri Dragoo of Texas Woman’s University, will bake goods for the event. They also will be selling raffle tickets for tablets and phones donated by a student’s father for raising money.

While the team is away for three weeks in Australia, they will be accompanied by Heather Lytle, who will serve as a tutor for the students to keep up with their school studies.

“They’ll spend some part of each day studying,” Dr. Dragoo said.

The team also plans to keep fellow students, teachers, parents, sponsors and the public informed through Twitter and Facebook during the trip.

In the years since the first solar car was built, students under Dr. Dragoo’s tutelage have built a solarized trailer for competitions in the region. The trailer becomes a hangout for teens at the competitions wanting to recharge their devices, he said.

This summer, students raced to Austin in the Solar Car Challenge, earning third place in the Open Division, just eight miles away from coming in second.

Cole Brolick, a sophomore new to Liberty from the Winston School of Dallas – which created the high school solar car organization – is excited for the opportunity to learn the advanced levels of competition.

“It’s something good to put on our resume,” he said. “You can also have pride in telling someone you went over and competed in the biggest solar car race in the world.”

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