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Golf cart restoration suits engineering class to a tee
Unique projects for the college-level Engineering 102 course at Gila Ridge High School include building a cardboard canoe, a hovercraft and most recently — a golf cart.
Roberto Valadez, who teaches the course in addition to physics at Gila Ridge, said he uses fun and interesting projects to capture the attention of students who may not have considered engineering previously.
“Those jobs are in big demand ... And they're really fun. It's not what students think it is, it's not all automotive, it's a very small part of it. Basically I'm trying to show them that engineering encompasses a lot of disciplines.”
After attending training in Tucson, Valadez, who has a degree in physics with an emphasis in engineering, began teaching the engineering class on Gila Ridge's campus this year, thanks to a partnership with the University of Arizona.
This year, Gila Ridge joined other Yuma Union High School District schools that had already been offering the course, including San Luis, Yuma, and Cibola high schools. At a past YUHSD board meeting, Tanya Hodges, regional academic coordinator for UA-Yuma, said 60 schools in Arizona are a part of the dual enrollment program.
The course not only helps students understand a basic overview of engineering concepts, it also allows students who complete it to receive three college credits.
“It's really beneficial for anyone to take it, even if they don't want to be an engineer,” said Valadez.
While he currently has eight students enrolled in the course, he said he already has 30 signed up for next year, and those are just the students who qualify for the course, adding that many have shown interest but may not meet all the requirements. In addition to being enrolled in precalculus or calculus, students must be in good standing with the school and pay the reduced tuition of $475 to take the course instead of the regularly priced $1,300 cost at UA.
“Students that are not able to take it this year, they still can take the class their senior year, but it gives them more of an incentive to push to get higher grades in their high school career ... If they want to take this course, they have to push themselves to be better and to earn better grades,” said Valadez.
For one of the class projects this year, School Resource Officer Ben Olivas donated the body of an old golf cart and Valadez tasked the students with restoring it to its former glory.
“It really didn't even have much at the beginning — no tires, not even an engine or anything,” he said. “It's just astounding where it started and where it is now.”
Olivas did donate an engine for students to use for the project, but it was previously used for a hydraulic lift at a construction company.
In addition to making their own wiring system to repurpose the engine, they had to make sure all the electrical was functional, including that it was gauged with the proper fuses so it didn't short out.
They also worked on the fabrication, design and manufacturing aspects of the project, which included adding engine mounts, off-road lights, a key switch, a sound system, headlights, a floodlight and off-road suspension. With the help of Gila Ridge welding teacher Michael Young, an exhaust system was designed for the cart so that it would no longer point upward toward the seats.
Valadez commented that the project has been very successful thanks to the help of the community and other staff and faculty on campus who helped them along the process.
“I spent countless hours driving around seeing who can help us, because it is a new program and we don't have a lot of funding... except for my pocketbook and some of the help that the community and my fellow colleagues have put in.”
Contact Valadez at firstname.lastname@example.org to help the group finish the project or to find out more about the class.
Sarah Womer can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6858. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSSarahWomer or on Twitter at @YSSarahWomer.