Students drive to succeed with electric car conversion project

By kalea hall


Surrounding the 1967 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia they rebuilt into an electric car, 21 Kansas City, Mo. high-school students showed off their work to Chaney High School students Monday afternoon.

Downtown Youngstown was just one of the stops the Kansas City students made as they drive from Akron to Washington, D.C., with the nonprofit MINDDRIVE, which works to encourage the message of hands-on experiential learning.

“Almost every city in America has educational woes,” MINDDRIVE CEO Steve Rees said. “This isn’t the solution, but it has a huge potential for improving it.”

Rees created MINDDRIVE four years ago in Kansas City after teaching creative and entrepreneurial studies at a school for at-risk students. He never thought having students rebuild a car would be a possibility, until one day the students asked if they could. Last year, the students drove the electric 1977 Lotus Espirit they rebuilt from San Diego, Calif. to Jacksonville, Fla.

“We try to come up with something extraordinary,” Rees said. “We thought, ‘Let’s drive around country.’”

Rees explained to 17 Chaney students at OH WOW!, The Roger and Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science and Technology, how important hands-on learning is, but he also wants to spread this message across the nation.

“Teach the principles of math and science through fun projects,” Rees said.

“We heard it was a student-driven project, and we thought we could get our kids motivated,” Chaney engineering teacher Carrie Sinkele said. “Sitting in the classroom and reading through a textbook isn’t the way anymore.”

MINDDRIVE takes 32 students from five Kansas City-area high schools on Saturday mornings to participate in the project of rebuilding cars to run on electricity. The students chosen usually are “not engaged” in their education, but the hands-on experience of working as a team to build a car gives them confidence and often changes their minds about their futures, according to Rees.

“A kid comes on wanting to be a rap star and leaves wanting to be an engineer,” Rees said.

A range of volunteer mentors with backgrounds in engineering, automotive design, electrical vehicles and more are a key part of the process.

The team’s finished, metallic green Karmann Ghia can go 70 mph on a lithium-ion battery. Overall, the Karmann Ghia cost $8,000 to restore, including the cost of buying the car for $1,500.

Jelani Harris, an 18-year-old graduate of University Academy High School in Kansas City, will be attending the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Science in Phoenix, Ariz., for audio engineering after working with MINDDRIVE for the past three years. Harris worked on the wiring for the Karmann Ghia.

“I’ve learned how to be more open and how to communicate,” Harris said.

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.