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Project Sunburn Sparks Excitement at Davie County High School

By Jeanna Baxter White

Davie County High School has embarked upon a cross-curricular project never before attempted at the North Carolina high school level. Through Project Sunburn, Davie hopes to be the first high school program in North Carolina to design,  build, and ultimately to compete with a solar-powered vehicle. 

While the short-term goal is to successfully race a solar-powered vehicle, the long-term goal is to position Davie County High School as the home track for the first high school-sanctioned race in North Carolina. The project culminates a year of teacher-led research and is backed by collegiate level programs at Cape Fear Community College and Appalachian State University which want to grow their solar programs into the secondary education level.

Members of the "Zip Ties" engineering group take measurements of the kart to be transferred to a digital model so that soft changes can be made before physical ones. This is in the CTE Building at DCHS.
Members of the “Zip Ties” engineering group take measurements of the kart to be transferred to a digital model so that soft changes can be made before physical ones. This is in the CTE Building at DCHS.

Project-Based Learning at Its Best

What began as a lunchtime conversation that resonated with multiple teachers has become a partnership between Davie High Career and Technical Education and Davie High STEM Center to keep the War Eagles at the forefront of what education has the capacity to do.

“Adults often complain that students don’t understand the real world,” said Collin Ferebee, Earth and Environmental Science teacher and project advisor. “This project will help the students see what the real world is like. When you give students a reason for the things they are doing in the classroom, even the tedious things, they develop a totally different level of motivation.” 

Through the War Eagle Motorsports Club, students are responsible for the vehicle’s marketing, social media, fabrication, engineering, design, and electronics with facilitation from instructors.  

“The sole focus of the project is concurrent learning with both teacher and student involved together in the process. We welcome failures and the learning that directly proceeds from them,” said advisor, Will Marrs, who teaches drafting and engineering. “Students are at the forefront of deciding the direction of the War Eagle Motorsports club, creating something that they are proud of being a part of.” 

War Eagles Motorsports Club is Student-Led and Collaborative

Allie Williams, club secretary and project lead in marketing and social media said, “I’m excited for the finished product of the car, but I’m most excited about the teamwork and the collaborative work that’s going into it.”

Ferebee stated, “We are homegrown.  Part of our leadership team behind this project is Mr. Will Marrs, Mr. Seth James, Mrs. Karla Freeman and myself.  We are all DCHS alumni and proud of the program that raised us. One of our major pushes in doing this is to give students opportunities in their education that we wish we had in our academic careers as War Eagles. We want to redefine the idea of authentic learning that can happen within the classroom.”  

Marrs shared an example. “When we met with the solar race team at Appalachian we had the opportunity to tour their shop. A Hispanic female student who graduated from Davie two years ago ran up to Mr. Robinson (Lester) and asked what he was doing there. She explained that she is now a mechanical engineering student but didn’t even know she was interested in engineering as a student at Davie. We don’t know how many students may be under-served.”  

Jackson Clark, a War Eagle Motorsports member and leader of the “Zip-Ties” engineering group, works on a digital model of the vehicle.

Authentic Learning is the Program’s Goal

Currently, the project is in the building proof of concept phase, with over 30 group members of War Eagle Motorsports spanning freshman through senior, male and female, banding together to tackle their chosen niche of the project. “ We love giving students the chance to get their hands dirty whether it be in fabrication, turning a wrench or just getting some grease on their hands while achieving real-world learning that they will hopefully remember past graduation,” said Seth James, automotive instructor at DCHS and advisor.

“When you think motorsports you typically think white males, but we want everyone included,” Ferebee said. 

Excitement remains high in the student groups as each sector in charge of specific tasks have classified themselves with codenames such as “The Zipties” (the engineering group), or “S.P.F. 100” (Sole Provider of Funds) who are in charge of marketing. Students are currently using technologies such as 3D Modeling software to construct a digital model of a purchased go-kart chassis that will serve as the bones of the vehicle. Team members are meeting once or more per week with their instructor as students officers and representatives decide and operate meeting schedules.  

Jackson Clark, a member of the engineering group, referenced the community that the project has created. “The coolest thing about Project Sunburn is that you have lots of different people, each with unique talents, working together to build a car. Some people are gifted in engineering, others in fabrication, and others in marketing, but we are all working TOGETHER towards a goal.”

War Eagle Motorsports Needs Your Help!

To complete their goal, War Eagle Motorsports needs YOUR help. “The project is motivated by the opportunities to create cross-curricular and community partnerships,” said Marrs. “We greatly appreciate the support we’ve received from the Mebane Foundation as well as an anonymous donor, and we welcome any feedback and additional resources.”

Ways the Community Can Help 

  1. Monetary Donations – These would be given to War Eagle Motorsports at DCHS and be used directly toward the project and to help students in the club and program. Our next big purchase will be a trailer for War Eagle Motorsports to transport the solar car as well as other projects that we have planned. This would be in the neighborhood of $10,000 – $15,000 dollars.
  2. Physical Resources – “This may be anything from automotive tools, fabrication tools, solar panels and parts, electronics, fabrication materials such as metals and different things, marketing materials, parts, etc.  This may also be something in the form of giving a student time in a machine shop, or fabrication, or time at a marketing firm. This is a large category, so we would be more than happy to talk to anyone interested in helping in this area.”
  3. Involvement – “We want the community to be a part of this project. Our ultimate goal is to have a high-school level race sanctioned at DCHS and to be the first high school in North Carolina to do it.  We need individuals who would like to be part of a committee and involved in the planning, marketing, and undertaking of the event. We have several teachers but we would like this to be community-centered.  Involvement also comes in the form of just wanting to help out. Someone may want to help students wire things, or fabricate, or provide tips on marketing.  Involvement could also mean helping our students with apprenticeship opportunities, shadowing opportunities, or internship opportunities. We would love to have this as well.”
  4. Sponsorship – “If someone would like to sponsor us at a level, we would love to discuss that opportunity, as well. This would be an excellent chance for someone to market themselves in a new undertaking in Davie County Schools’ education.”
  5. Advocacy – “Positive encouragement, positive exposure, following us on social media, spreading the word.  Any kind of marketing or spreading of our mission would be awesome.  Communication and asking us how you can be a part of things is awesome, we will find a way for someone to be involved if they would like to be.”
  6. Advocacy for SkillsUSA – “SkillsUSA is a club at Davie County High School that allows students to compete against other high schools in the state, and nation, in numerous areas of Career and Technical Education.  However, the mission of SkillsUSA first and foremost is the development of work-ready skills within high school students no matter if they are seeking the workforce, university, or technical school after graduation. I mention this because someone may not be able to help, or may not want to help with War Eagle Motorsports, but still want to help in building our Career and Technical Education program at Davie.  This is an excellent way to do it.  Our country is in dire need of the skilled worker and this organization champions the development of work-ready skills for any path after graduation. The SkillsUSA website is here if you would like more information on it.  There is also a website for the SkillsUSA NC organization located here.”  
  7. Advocacy and Involvement in DCHS STEM Center – “Davie County High School is a STEM accredited high school. Our goal as instructors is to involve and immerse students in STEM experiences (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) that give them the chance to spark interests that may influence their life decisions past the graduation stage. Our country is in great need of the STEM-minded individual and Davie County Schools is incredibly proud to be at the forefront of developing this type of education. We would love to work with any individual or organization that would like to contribute time to speak or demonstrate to students or provide resources or monetary contributions. Everything goes straight to work for our students.”
Automotive Instructor Seth James overseas War Eagle Motorsports member Laura Newsom in removing excess parts of the frame during early fabrication.

You can follow Project Sunburn’s journey on Instagram and Facebook, or reach out to the team by email here .