Wheaton High School’s Society of Women Engineers

April 25, 2023
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Winners of the the Future Mobility Challenge

The electric car team from Wheaton HS, sponsored by Wheaton High School’s Society of Women Engineers, won the Future Mobility Challenge, an international Electric Vehicle Grand Prix competition in the United Arab Emirates, on March 18, 2023!

The all-female team was one of just two of all-female teams in a field of 21 teams! Congratulations!

Read their story!


By Kristen Dill and Curt Suplee

We weren’t exactly feeling like winners.

It was the middle of a warm, dry afternoon on the sands of the United Arab Emirates, less than 12 hours before the March 18 start of the Electric Vehicle Grand Prix  – the first annual global high-school championship contest for electric race cars.

Teams from 15 high schools in several countries were making careful, last-minute adjustments to their vehicles. Our team’s car hadn’t arrived yet.

The team from Wheaton High School’s Society of Women Engineers, including some people who couldn’t come on the trip, had spent months building, refining, and re-refining the three-wheel car according to competition specs. It had been shipped from Dulles airport in Virginia on February 27, but delivery had been repeatedly delayed.

The team had arrived on March 12 to allow enough time before the race for a high-speed tour of UAE that ranged from surfing dunes and camel-watching, to visiting the world’s highest skyscraper and a rehabilitation hospital solely dedicated to falcons.

By the Monday before the Saturday morning race, anxiety about the missing car was building. Tuesday and Wednesday went by with no word. “Oh, great,” grumbled one parent. “A global EV challenge without an EV car.” During the long, tense wait, the team members were silent, not wanting to entertain the idea of a race without their car or even think of discussing drastic alternatives such as partnering with another team or heading to Abu Dhabi University to start building a new car.

Finally, on Thursday afternoon, March 16th, we were told that the car was actually on a plane and should be landing shortly in Qatar. By 12:30 PM on Friday, we heard that it had cleared UAE customs and was on the way to Dubai. Three nail-biting hours later, we were informed that it would be delivered to the track soon, and around 6 PM our car arrived. In a crate. Unassembled. The team worked underneath the floodlights until midnight putting it together (on a tarp to keep the sand out) and prepping it for the 8:30 AM check-in the next morning.

Team unpacking the car.

According to the rules, the teams remaining after a 11:30 AM qualifying round would race in the 2 PM final match: 60-minutes on a 400-meter asphalt track, divided into two 30-minute heats with a driver change in the middle. No battery charging was allowed between heats. The car that completed the most laps in an hour would win.

How We Got There

The event is sponsored by Global EEE, a U.S.-based nonprofit that organizes student competitions worldwide “to develop better engineers with expertise in EVs by creating opportunities for engineering students to work on hands-on projects and develop out-of-class skills,” among other goals including “understanding of marketing, business, and management skills needed to execute large and complex projects” and proficiency in “renewable energy technologies (electric drive based projects and photovoltaics).”

The race had been held in the United States every year since 2013 with teams from D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Ohio. This year was the first international competition.

The sponsor specifies the minimum requirements for cars and provides a kit with the basic components including all mechanical and electrical parts, a steel chassis, a fiberglass-reinforced plywood body, and an acrylic canopy as well as wheels, brakes, and steering. Beyond that, each team customizes the design to its own standards. The regulations encourage innovation, 3D printing, and changes to the basic kit design.

According to the organizers, the key factors in winning are reliability, strategy, understanding batteries, and driver behavior.

Despite the late-delivery problems, the Wheaton team was ready. “These girls know their car,” said Sponsor and Wheaton High School teacher Tom Siegrist who started the Society of Women Engineers Club in 2017. Members meet during lunch and after school to work on the car and practice in the school parking lot.

“None of the parents helped with the car build, assembly, wiring, or modifications,” Siegrist said. “The students did it all themselves. They understand their batteries and have devised a system for maximizing output. They were the ones that came up with the idea of modifying specific parts using the 3D printer at school to prevent driver fatigue. They try to keep their car super lightweight. They also do well under pressure — driving consistently and focused throughout the entire race.” Two co-presidents would drive for Wheaton.

On the Field

In the qualifying round – after some initial trouble with wiring – Wheaton squeaked in at 13th, which determined their car’s place in the staggered race lineup. Of the 15 qualifying teams, 11 were from schools in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and surrounding areas. Three came from the United States (Maryland, Virginia, and D.C.) and one from Chieti, Italy.

Waiting for the final event, the full Wheaton entourage numbered 26, including 14 girls, 10 parents, an alumna of Wheaton High School as Women’s Mentor, and Mr. Siegrist.

Despite stiff competition from many well-funded teams, Wheaton finished second in the first heat, behind Virginia. The pressure was on, the Wheaton and Italian team were neck and neck until the very end. The Wheaton driver stayed cool and finished in first place for the second heat.

But who had won? It was hard to know from the unofficial times on the scoreboard. The judges deliberated and at last announced the official results: We and one other team had gone the farthest, completing 69 laps (about 28 km or 17 miles).  But we had done it more than three seconds faster. The Wheaton team finished  in one hour and 29 seconds. The second place SABIS International School – Ruwais, Abu Dhabi  took one hour and 32 seconds. The Italian team was third with 67 laps.

Wheaton was one of two all-female teams. Most of the others were coed, about 90% men and 10% women. The team that won the fastest lap time around the course was the Sabis International School from Abu Dhabi at 33 seconds, but their car didn’t start for the race.

The Wheaton team had had its car for less than a day when it was time to take it apart, pack it up, and ship it home to be ready for the next race – in June in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Wishing the team the best in their next race!



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