Coast High will build a solar boat to challenge 39 other campuses in a water race
Jessica Cochran grew up on boats, but never thought about building one — until this year.
The 17-year-old senior at Coast High School had little interest in engineering or woodwork, but after hearing some classmates talking about last year’s Solar Cup competition, she decided to give it a try.
“I was useless when it came to power tools,” she said. “Now, you should see me with a sander — it’s pretty impressive!”
Cochran is one of the new members of Coast’s Solar Cup team, which will build a solar-powered boat to race against 39 other high schools across Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties in May.
“It’s expanded my horizons,” Cochran said. “The first day, I thought, ‘I’m going to be awful at this, so I’ll let them take the reins,’ but then I got into it.”
This is Coast’s second year participating in the Solar Cup, a competition put on by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
While the main event will take place in May, students have already started their work. The Coast students put together the wooden hull of the boat and are preparing the two technical reports due in January. The next steps will be installing all the parts — steering, motors, batteries and solar panels — and creating a public service announcement — either six social media posts or one video — about water conservation.
Last year, in its rookie season, the team took home honors for its technical report, public service message and sportsmanship.
But this year, Coast’s five-person team — the only to represent the Huntington Beach Union High School District — is hoping to be even better.
“Last year, we had some issues with the angle of the drive shaft and the propeller,” said senior John Cupp. “Hopefully that’s going to change. We’re also going to look into our steering and fix that a bit. Everything else we’re going to keep relatively the same, with some minor adjustments.”
Noah Corona, a senior, said the team also wants to improve its technical report by using a computer program to generate 3-D models, instead of the hand sketches it submitted last year.
“This year is going to be a lot better, since the others have already gone through the whole design process,” said Corona, who is also new to the team. “So we should do well this year.”
Darla Merrill, a Coast science teacher who runs the team with math teacher Betty Tran, said the hands-on nature of the Solar Cup makes science, math and engineering fun for students — and gives them the confidence to succeed in these subjects inside the classroom.
“They might think, ‘I’m not smart enough to do an engineering class,’” she said. “Well, you’ve already done it. It’s about letting kids know that it isn’t that hard. Don’t be afraid of hard tasks that you’ve never tried before. Trust the teachers to provide the information and resources you need to be successful.”
Merrill said the competition also teaches her students “life skills,” such as teamwork, confidence, public speaking and leadership when it comes to California’s water crisis.
“This generation is going to be the one to have to come up with something so that we don’t use so much water,” she said. “Any way we can inspire students — if they can find a way to figure out a way to make a boat work, then they can take that and figure out a way to help us consume less water as well.”