By Kelly Huth

Lafayette engineering students offered up their time and technical know-how to help the Nazareth Area Middle School Greenpower team fine-tune their plan to build an electric car.

Mechanical engineering majors Dylan Danko ’24 and Max Warnock ’25 welcomed the eighth graders to campus Nov. 9. Both are members of the student-run Electric Vehicle (EV) Club and were happy to share tips they’ve learned from designing and building electric vehicles. Danko says the club offers an opportunity to see how coursework can be applied to real-world engineering projects.

The duo answered questions and showed off two chassis that are in progress at Lafayette.

“Much of the skills and knowledge needed to build a car like this is gained through hands-on experience, talking to those in the industry, talking to other teams, speaking with professors, and just trying things we think might work,” Warnock says.

Warnock hopes the visit sparked ideas the Nazareth students could do with their car and taught them how to problem-solve.

“Seeing at an early age the application of what you are learning in class can give you a much better appreciation for the things you’re learning,” Warnock says.

Getting a jump-start

The idea for EV Club actually came from a senior design project. A few years ago, mechanical engineering students partnered with electrical and computer engineering students to design and race an electric vehicle in the Formula Hybrid + Electric Competition, and it sparked an interest. Thanks to long-standing support from the Acopian family and other generous donations, students were able to keep the program going as a club. EV Club, which also has a division for motorsports, focuses on learning about sustainable engineering and transportation. 

Contrary to popular belief, engineering experience is not required, Danko says. Though many in the interdisciplinary club are pursuing engineering, others major in economics, government and law, and international studies.

“Just like college, the goal of Laf EV Club is for the members to learn and gain hands-on, applicable skills,” Danko says. “I had exactly zero engineering experience before joining the EV Club in 2021, and now I have had the opportunity to design and manufacture various components of the vehicle, and I’ve also gained valuable project management experience. … For us, building an organization for people to learn is just as, if not more, important than building a car itself.”  

Racing ahead

Danko and Warnock shared their expertise and taught the Greenpower team about controlling the speed of the car, how to leave space for different components, protecting passengers, reading/creating mechanical drawings, and how to cut pipes with fish mouths and weld them to fit better. 

“So many of our students have never been on a college campus before, and this is meaningful for them,” says Lee Bauder, NAMS school counselor. Bauder and tech-ed teacher Dave Petrushka facilitate the Greenpower team at Nazareth.

“It’s all trial and error for us,” Bauder says. “So having Dylan and Max giving them ideas, talking through how they cut the pipes and how they take things apart, jump-starts their creativity.”

NAMS has had a Greenpower team for about six years, and students have to apply for a spot. Once accepted, 21 students take a tech-ed/STEM class where they develop a plan to build the electric-powered car and formulate a race plan.

The group is split into two teams—one focuses on the design and build, while the other coordinates marketing, sponsorship, and fundraisers. Pancake sales and movie nights offset costs that can hit almost $20,000. Bauder says if they reach their vehicle and financial goals by May, they race the car in Rhode Island against other teams.

Two car chassis are on display in Acopian.“I hope they realized that what they are learning now as eighth graders is incredibly valuable. They build nearly all of the car themselves, and they fundraise all of the money they need themselves; I couldn’t even fathom doing that as an eighth grader,” Danko says. “I hope they see that skills they build now continue to be valuable well into college and beyond. And hopefully, they are really excited for what the future holds!”

Mason Vandervalk, a student on the Greenpower team, says it was helpful to see how the Lafayette club builds the electrical components.

“It’s so cool to see how advanced their stuff is and how we can add to our car,” Vandervalk says. “From what I’ve seen, I definitely want to go into engineering.”

Danko and Warnock were honest with the group—sometimes fundraising or design plans work, and sometimes they flop.

Olivia Wolf works on the Greenpower social media and fundraising team, and said her takeaway from the college visit was not to give up. 

“I learned sometimes things don’t work out, and we heard from them to just try again,” Wolf says.

Making a connection

It’s the first year the EV Club connected with Nazareth’s Greenpower team, but Warnock says he hopes they’ll work together again. They plan to have at least part of the team back once the EV Club starts manufacturing body panels for the cars.

Warnock says STEM projects and experiences such as Greenpower give students skills they’ll use throughout their lives.

“If they enjoy a project like this, they can do it in the future, and a project like Greenpower sets them up well for the future,” Warnock says.


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