CO2 dragster competition puts employability skills at the finish line

by perducoeducation

Think back to middle and high school. Were you a part of a club or two? Or maybe you were involved in basically everything that was offered? Have you ever reflected back to the time you spent in those organizations and the impact that experience had on your education and future? Maybe it was insignificant or incidental. But, maybe, the experience was pivotal to the person you became or to a career interest decision you made.

Today’s employers are clamoring for employability skills and 21st-century skills such as communication, collaboration, problem-solving, initiative, enterprise, time and self-management, and empathy, among others. But how do students acquire these work and life skills? We wholeheartedly believe hands-on education can help foster those skills (see #ThisIsSTEM). We also enthusiastically believe Career and Technical Student Organizations (CTSOs) play an important role too. The opportunities they afford students and their place in the educational extracurricular ecosystem can’t be overlooked.

Full disclosure: I have a personal soft spot for CTSOs. I’m a product of one. The capacities I developed in Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) in my rural high school are deeply rooted in my being. I can say with certainty I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my time in the organization’s infamous red jacket. I’ve frequently drawn from the lessons I learned and the relationships I built within FCCLA in both my personal and professional life.

The Technology Student Association (TSA)

When I had the opportunity to travel to Atlanta, GA, this past June for the National TSA Conference, I was glad to tiptoe back into the CTSO world. The Technology Student Association (TSA) is the preeminent intersection of hands-on STEM education and CTSO. TSA has been around for four decades [it was formerly the American Industrial Arts Association (AIASA)] and comprises more than 250,000 middle school and high school students engaged in STEM education and activities. The organization is guided by their mission:

“The Technology Student Association (TSA) enhances personal development, leadership, and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), whereby members apply and integrate these concepts through intracurricular activities, competitions, and related programs.” (TSA)

TSA activities correlated to the ITEEA Standards for Technological Literacy can be offered in the classroom and through local chapters as well as state and national competitions. Pitsco Education is proud to support the Dragster Design and the Junior Solar Sprint competitions.

(Left to right) Jessica Born, Seth Stewart, Julie McQueen, Ronnie McQueen, Merritt Kendzior, Alan Kirby, Sue Angermayer, Jason Redd, and Casey Eaves

CO2 Dragsters Make History

The inaugural CO2 dragster competition was held in 1979 in Memphis, TN, with only EIGHT competitors. Since then, the technology, the cars, and the equipment have changed, and the competition has grown to about 200 racers each year. But the spirit of the event has remained the same – inspiring hands-on STEM learning, fostering creativity, developing technical skills, and having fun.

Over the years, we’ve seen cars of all designs and students from all over the country make their way to the winner’s circle. One of our favorite parts each year is connecting with the advisors and student competitors.

Kenzie Quarles and Merritt Kendzior

For the last four years, the event has seen some serious girl power. Merritt Kendzior of Southeast High School in Bradenton, FL, made history in 2017 with her fourth consecutive gold win. Heidi Raley of Manatee Schools in Palmetto, FL, and McKenzie Quarles of Fulshear High School in Lamar Consolidated ISD, TX, kept the trend going by securing the top spots in both the middle and high school levels, respectively, in the 2018 Dragster Design competition. Also, another fun continuation, Heidi’s big brother, Hunter, was the 2017 middle school champ. We love a good family tradition! 

Heidi and Hunter Raley

Advice from a Dragster Champ

We had the chance to connect with Kenzie after her win. She shared she’s always loved a good challenge, so in eighth grade, at the beginning of her time in TSA, she entered the middle school Dragster Design event. She enjoyed the research and the competition. After her first event, although happy with how she competed, she “was not satisfied and kept trying every year.”

In 2018, her car, Black Widow, survived multiple heats and sped to the top spot. Looks like persistence and hard work has paid off, Kenzie!

Her favorite part about CO2 Dragster Design event:
“How it requires you to constantly improve your knowledge and skillfulness in the art of making a car . . . and how it has led me to meet many new people who have helped me along the way.”

About her championship dragster:
“Since the beginning [of my TSA time], I’ve always used a bandsaw to create my cars. A CNC wasn’t available to me. So, in order to be competitive against CNC-made cars, I knew I had to make my car better in every other way. . . . I did a lot of research on the internal physics, etc., which greatly impacted my results. Alongside the inner workings, I knew I needed a good design. I experimented on the best design based on my available resources and created Black Widow VI.”

 What the Dragster Design competition taught her:  
“Dragster Design has taught me to not be afraid to push the limits or take risks. Just like in life, the only way you can do well in CO2 Dragster Design is if you take the risk, pushing yourself and your design to the limits. If you pull back in fear of being DQ’ed, you’ll never make it in the race; just like if you keep it safe in life because of the fear of failure, you will never succeed. TSA has also taught me the importance of learning to work with others – which has helped me greatly in academics and in life.”

Her best advice for someone building their first dragster or entering his or her first competition:
“Do your research. Don’t be afraid to contact experienced dragster competitors for tips and tricks you can use on your car. Though we are all competing with each other, most dragster competitors do not mind helping you get settled in the event.

My personal tip is to really take a look into aerodynamics and make sure you’re getting your car weight as light as possible.

What I’ve seen with beginners is that they sacrifice one of the two in order to completely satisfy the other. For example, I’ve seen many aerodynamic designs who do not succeed due to their heavy weight and vice versa. Another big tip is to NEVER do something to your car to make it appear nice if it will hurt it in the race. Just because it might look good doesn’t mean it will run well. Always do what’s best for the race, and the rest follows suit.”

Learning through failure, persistence, completing research, working in teams . . . sounds like employability skills to us! We are so pleased to see the mission of TSA (and CTSOs) at work throughout the year, with an extra dose at TSA National Conference each summer. Congratulations again, Kenzie! And Heidi and all our dragster competitors too! We’re already counting down until the 2019 event.


Related Posts

Leave a Comment