Inaugural high school grand prix event to be held in May


By EMMA FLICK Executive Reporter

Nov 18, 2015

In May, high school students will get a chance to race vehicles they have designed and built themselves at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the High School Grand Prix event.

A number of years ago, James Caruthers, the Gerald and Sarah Skidmore professor of chemical engineering, was involved with starting an electric vehicle Grand Prix as an educational activity for college students. The students involved were judged on race placement, engineering and design, energy efficiency and community outreach. Five years ago, they were asked to come to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to hold the event as part of the Indianapolis 500 activities. Since then, student teams from colleges across the U.S. have participated, as well as teams from Canada, Europe and China.

Now this program is being implemented at the high school level, starting with a few high schools in Indianapolis.

“A couple of years ago, we had a whole number of high school students who had come to us and asked, ‘Would you do a similar type of event for us?’ and we thought about it and we said, ‘Yeah, I think we can. I think we can scale it down,’” said Caruthers.

The program is being sponsored by LIFT, which is an industry-led, government-funded consortium focused primarily on lightweight metals and the development and commercialization of technologies in the broad defense and commercial transportation sector.

Emily DeRocco, the LIFT education and workforce director, explained that LIFT is committed to building an educated and skilled workforce that is confident and competent in using new technologies. To develop, there are two main challenges that have to be addressed. First, more young people need to be attracted into educational pathways that will lead them into engineering and manufacturing jobs. Second, in order to get a good manufacturing job and advance in it, these students need to have a strong foundation of STEM skills.

“This opportunity that Purdue brought to LIFT really met both of those challenges,” said DeRocco. “It is going to be a fun and engaging way for young people to learn STEM skills … Purdue (is) a model partner to the national network of manufacturing innovation institutes because they understand how critical innovation in manufacturing is today, and they actually develop their own courses and programs of study to produce some of the best engineers in the country.”

According to Caruthers, this program is something that will engage all types of students in STEM activities, including those with “non-techie skills” to help with things such as advertising, marketing and management.

“It’s that ecosystem of everyone working together,” said Caruthers. “We think this is a real opportunity to bring together a diverse skill set in an activity that’s fun – a high school team that’s down at the Indy 500 competing against other high school teams. And we’re celebrating academic activity.”

The hope is that this program will continue to expand, said Caruthers.

“President (Mitch) Daniels has looked at me and he’s said, ‘Jim, I’d like a go-kart in every high school in the state.’”

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