Encouraged by their teacher to become “modern-day Henry Fords,” students from Calera High School and Chelsea Middle School in Shelby County are demonstrating that they can change the world by applying their math and science skills to humanitarian efforts.
At a recent State Board of Education meeting, these two innovative schools were featured in a video presentation, showing how these pre-engineering students construct a basic utility vehicle (BUV), they call “the Eagle.”
“A symbol of freedom, the Eagle gives freedom to people in underdeveloped countries who need simple and reliable modes of transportation,” explained narrator Brad Ferris of Magnolialand Entertainment, producer of the video.
“The creation of this unique vehicle is one thing,” said project creator and class instructor Brain Copes. “But the truly amazing thing is watching the development of the students. We had students that used to hate to come to school become excited about getting to school.”
In 2007, Copes’ students entered their vehicle design in a collegiate engineering competition in Indianapolis, sponsored by the Institute for Affordable Transportation. Copes explained, “These students were the only non-collegiate team in the competition.” In that year, and in the three years following, Copes’ students succeeded in outperforming teams from universities and graduate programs, like Rose Holman Institute of Technology and Purdue University.
The project began at Chelsea Middle School with 115 students working over 2 semesters to rebuild a golf cart to accomplish practical tasks for developing countries. By his second year, he challenged his students to build a BUV from scratch. “The kids and I put our heads together, and amazed ourselves. Mr. Copes then moved to Calera where the team succeeded in building the BUV.
Currently there are over 300 business partners including major contributors Toyota and Shelby Baptist Hospital that support the project, now in its sixth year of implementation in Mr. Copes’ classroom. Several governmental leaders have also supported the efforts, including the past two Lt. Governors who made Mr. Copes’ students “honorary Lt. Governors.”
“We are working with our partners to expand the program to other schools and other states,” said Mr. Copes. “It’s already being implemented in Oregon and Tennessee.”
The videos highlight the versatility of the vehicle and feature the students constructing and demonstrating its use. Students learned that the BUV is easily modified, using the same basic framework to construct tillers for farming, drilling machines to help find clean water sources deep underground, and an ambulance fitted with a stretcher and a removable accessory kit for medical supplies.
Combining environmental science principles to solve problems that underdeveloped countries often face, the students also learned that the materials used to build the Eagle can be easily obtained overseas, like the recycled water pipes, basic car tires and parts from junk yards. The BUVs can also be easily repaired using small hand-tools, making them practical for use in any remote villages.
“We need more projects like this in Alabama where students are challenged to APPLY what they are learning” said A+’s VP for the Alabama Best Practices Center Cathy Gassenheimer. “To be well-prepared for college and/or career, students need more rigorous and relevant learning opportunities that enable them to not only learn facts, but to deeply understand the ideas behind the facts and how they relate to real-life situations. ”