The Michigan International Speedway is filled with all good things this week. Good cars. Good technicians. Good people doing really amazing things in the Progressive Automotive X Prize. There are a whole bunch of good folks here at the Speedway chasing dreams and chasing $10 million in prize money.
Today, NASA’s chief Rocket Scientist, Dr. Bobby Braun, visited our shop. Even as I write this it is difficult to grasp. I keep waiting to wake up from this X Prize Dream I seem to be trapped in.
U. S. Congressman Chaka Fattah arranged for Dr. Braun to come to school and meet with the Team. The chief technologist for NASA wanted to see what we were doing.
Our students delivered powerful speeches about hybrid technology, the need for green jobs, what it means to be a student in West Philly, and what real educational reform looks like. The adults, as usual, listened with pride.
Congressman Fattah, State Representative Roebuck and Dr. Braun spoke to all of us and spent another hour answering our questions and taking a close look at our technology. It was incredible.
Over the last two years, we’ve had some amazing visitors including a United States Senator, a Congressman, a world famous musician, and a member of President Obama’s cabinet. Each visit has been as inspirational as it is inconceivable. We sometimes wonder if the kids understand just how big a deal our work is. While what we’re doing isn’t rocket science, it is real and important work for students and adults, alike.
When other people – brilliant, powerful or influential – validate what we’re doing, it should send a wake-up call to the rest of the country. We think the message is clear – when you give young people the opportunity and space to do real work, wonderful things can happen.
Scroll down to see video of Dr. Braun and to read Ronnie Polaneczky's column in today's Philadelphia Daily News.
In the fall of 2007, the West Philly Hybrid X Team started talking about the Automotive X Prize. We were going to build a car that gets 100 miles per gallon. “It’s not rocket science,” Simon assured us time and again. We all say it now. So what a shock we got this week when U. S. Congressman Chaka Fattah called to tell us that Dr. Robert Braun, NASA’s Chief Technologist is coming to meet the team and take a look at our technology. Anita was the one who pointed out the irony, “All this time saying it’s not rocket science and now a rocket scientist is coming to see us.” Go figure.
What's more amazing is that our Chief Research Engineer Keith Sevcik's life desire is to be a rocket scientist.
But this isn't the only funny thing that’s happened lately. Maybe it’s because we’re now approaching 3 years, or maybe it’s because the automotive world isn’t as big as we thought, or maybe it’s just a series of coincidences, but there are some funny things happening.
Back at the start of our X Prize meetings, students broke into groups. Some formed a PR Team, while others worked to launch a website. Another group investigated available vehicles and their weight.
When we were looking at cars that we might want to use to convert to a hybrid, one that was very attractive was the European Ford Fiesta. We followed the web to see if it was coming to the US. In April 2008, the New York Times carried a long article about James Farley, Ford’s new marketing guru who wanted to bring new products to market. I thought this was so exciting I carried the article in my briefcase for months. Then, I wrote to him on behalf of the team. We asked for support of our efforts and we asked to speak to one of his staff about how Ford intended to market its new vehicles.
We finally found out. Not from Mr. Farley, but from Philadelphia friends who are part of the Ford Fiesta Movement, a marketing effort to showcase Ford’s new small car across the country. 20 people – all extremely active on social media – were selected to drive the Fiesta and present the car and their respective communities to the public. In Philadelphia my friends Kendra Gaeta and Laris Kreslins were chosen. They were Team Philly in the Fiesta Movement. Just how unlikely is that?
They drove their Ford Fiesta all over Philadelphia and hosted a bunch of events to highlight the work of non-profit organizations including the Mighty Writers, the West Philly Tool Library, Mill Creek Farm and PAWS. For the last event, Team Philly invited the EVX Team and a bunch of other folks to the Riverview movie theater to see a great documentary about Philadelphia photographer Zoe Strauss and to see Iron Man 2. The West Philly Hybrid X Team was their partner for this very cool event, which meant I got to say a few words about our 100 MPGe Ford Focus and our terrific team members. As partners, the Fiesta Movement will make a contribution to the EVX Team. So, 2 ½ years later we learned about Ford’s marketing plans and got some unexpected financial support. What do you call that?
One more thing. Elon Musk has a cameo in Iron Man 2. Elon Musk is the CEO of Tesla Motors, the electric car company that had been one of our chief competitors in the X Prize until a few months ago. There were over 600 Hollywood movies made last year. Only one had an electric car maker. That’s the one we got invited to see. Go figure.
What do you figure’s next?
Weekends in May and June are extremely eventful and always jammed packed.
Prom. Graduation and graduation parties. Working on hybrid cars in the shop.
(For the record: these are not listed in order of importance.)
Many of the seniors at the West Philadelphia Automotive Academy attended their senior prom on Friday night at the Hilton Hotel on City Line Ave. The young men were handsome, and the young ladies were lovely. The seniors of all the Academies (Business, Urban, and Automotive) celebrated a "Night in Hollywood." I would say the colors of the evening were red and purple. Jacques Wells, one of our mechanical members of the team, wore a bright red vest and white tux. The white tuxes are amazing. He looked so distinguished. Momo Shen was beautiful. She is on our public realtions team and wore a black sparkle A-line dress. She looked perfect. Her date, Maalik Wolfe, wore a black suit with a red shirt and black tie.
A couple of the seniors on the team didn't want to go to prom. Justin Carter said that since he was going to another prom with his girlfriend/shawty/beau that he felt like he didn't need to go to his. Sekou said that since it wasn't at a club that he didn't want to go. They both attended a fundraising event for the Schulykill Center that Friday night with Ann Cohen. (For the record: the event was not held at a club.)
Prom is very overwhelming. It could just be the worst and best thing about high school. It is an unrealistic night. I remember my junior and senior proms were just awful. I had to ask three boys to my junior prom before one said yes. That is so sad. I wouldn't even be able to tell you the last name of my senior prom date. But I always loved my dresses. The dresses were the best. Yet, they are so expensive. Now, there are all these amazing websites that allows you to donate your prom dresses or old bridesmaid dresses. The material is reused.
It was just so nice to see Momo and Jacques really happy. Ms. Hanlon, Ms. Ojeda, and I chaperoned for two hours and took tons of pictures. It was really nice to see them dressed up and happy. These next couple weeks for our seniors are going to be hard. We have seniors that are not on target to graduate. We have seniors that are giving the teachers are hard time with last minute assignments and exams. Some of them are terrified about what their summer and fall are going to look like. Others cannot wait to leave Philadelphia and start at Penn State campuses and other colleges and universities. Many of our seniors are going to summer sessions for CCP.
The next morning, Saturday, the shop was full of bodies. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done on both hybrid cars. Many of the guys were in the shop with Hauger and Co. Ann and Anita worked with students about fundraising ideas and sending out thank you notes to our sponsors and donors. I was in Baltimore, Maryland at a bridal shower for my cousin Katie. She is getting married in September. I know her china plate pattern.
Weekends in May and June are extremely busy. The weather turns warm and school is almost over. Ann, Simon, and I talk a lot about the students and how are we going to keep them focused through these next couple weeks. I think if we keep having more successful days like Saturday, we don't need to work much about student involvement. It will just happen. If our schedule during the week remains as busy, the students will have enough activities to go to keep them out of trouble. Outside School Time, Kaplan SAT, Tuesday meeting, and Saturday School happens every week.
And prom is over. The X Prize can regain its status in our lives.
Ride or Die