Edible Car Contest Project Nominated for Bellwether Award

For the second time, Illinois Valley Community College was a finalist for the prestigious Bellwether, a national award which recognizes outstanding and innovative community college programs.

IVCC’s second finish in the top ten, in fall 2012, was for edible car contests which a team of IVCC faculty have been offering throughout the college district to engage students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and also promoting nationwide. IVCC was first nominated for edible car contests in fall 2011.

IVCC’s Making Industry Meaningful In College (MIMIC) project was one of ten finalists for the award, presented at the Community College Futures Assembly at the University of Florida, the previous year. The Bellwether Award recognizes cutting-edge, innovative programs that are leading community colleges into the future.

"Edible car contests, like MIMIC, are proof that simple projects can engage students," said Dorene Perez, the Program Coordinator of Computer Aided Design and Computer Aided Engineering and one of the IVCC contest organizers.

IVCC offered its first edible car contest in 2006 as a celebration of Engineering Week.

"We knew that designing vehicles from food would challenge students to solve problems and be creative, skills that are critical in engineering," Perez said. "As we offered that first contest, we began to see how much potential the contests have to get students excited about an unlimited number of other subjects."

Since that first contest, Perez and a team consisting of Jim Gibson, Rose Marie Lynch, and Sue Caley Opsal, have offered edible car contests to second-graders through college-age students. Gibson is the Program Coordinator of Electronics; Lynch is a communications instructor; and Caley Opsal is a biology instructor.

Edible car contests are especially suited for creating interest in and providing hands-on applications for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). While the vehicles created from food are low tech, the IVCC team showcases high tech equipment in the speed competition. A programmable logic controller is connected to a human machine interface (HMI), with reflective photo eyes located at the start and finish of the track.

With support from a National Science Foundation grant, the IVCC team has written a "how to" handbook and has given workshops at a number of national conferences to encourage and assist teachers to organize contests as a fun way to provide hands-on experience for classroom content.

"People of all ages like playing with food," Perez said. "So we are encouraging others to capitalize on that interest."

Bellwether Award finalists were recognized at the Community College Futures Assembly in Orlando, Fla. Jan. 26–29, 2013. The Assembly is sponsored by the Institute of Higher Education at the University of Florida.