Edible Car Contest Nominated for Third Time for a Bellwether Award

Two Illinois Valley Community College projects have been nominated for prestigious national awards.IVCC’s edible car contests have received a third nomination for the Bellwether, which recognizes outstanding and innovative community college programs that are leading community colleges into the future.

Making Industry Meaningful In College (MIMIC) is being considered for a Bellwether Legacy Award, which will recognize previous Bellwether Award winners that have been offered for five or more years and have been replicated elsewhere. MIMIC was one of ten Bellwether Award Finalists in 2012.

Finalists for both awards will be honored at the Community College Futures Assembly, January 25 – 28, 2014, at the University of Florida, Orlando.


IVCC began offering edible car contests 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," said Perez, one of the contest originators. "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 team consisting of Gibson, Rose Marie Lynch, and Sue Caley Opsal have offered edible car contests to second-graders through college-age students. Lynch is a retired 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.

While the IVCC organizers did not originate the idea for an edible car contest, they have capitalized on the contests’ potential for engaging people of all ages in an unlimited number of theoretical concepts. With support from a National Science Foundation grant, the IVCC team wrote a "how to" handbook, available online, and have given numerous workshops to assist teachers to organize contests which will provide experience for classroom content.

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


The MIMIC project places students in engineering design, electronics and business into teams to design, prototype, manufacture, market and sell products.

Developed by Dorene Perez and Alice Steljes, MIMIC was first offered in 1995. Perez is the program coordinator of computer-aided design/computer-aided engineering, and Steljes, now retired, was an accounting instructor.

"We could see that our students needed workplace skills, like teamwork, communication and problems solving," Perez said. "So we decided to have our students work together as they would in a business or industry, and we could provide training the skills they needed."

Today, each MIMIC team, or "company" as they are called, includes students in engineering design, electronics, and a variety of business fields such as marketing, accounting and information systems. Manufacturing students serve as consultants, and students in a number of other fields, such as graphic design and technical writing, assist the MIMIC teams.

Current MIMIC instructors are Jim Gibson, program coordinator of electronics; Rick Serafini, program coordinator of accounting; and Perez. Gibson, who joined the project in 1996, credits MIMIC for improving the IVCC electronics program: "MIMIC has brought a sense of design and quality reflection to the program that has made the program strong," he said.

Since its inception, MIMIC has been recognized as an innovative project. Perez explained that MIMIC appears to be the first community college project to place technical and business students into teams to design, manufacture and sell products.

In its first year, MIMIC received a Connections Award for Innovative Curriculum Integration from the Illinois State Board of Education. In 2004, MIMIC instructors were invited to give a presentation at the American Society for Engineering Education International Colloquium at Tsinghua University in Beijing, People’s Republic of China.

In 2005, IVCC received a grant of $230,000 from the National Science Foundation to make the MIMIC project the focal point or capstone for two-year technical programs. As part of the grant, the MIMIC instructors developed a manual, available online, to assist teachers in organizing similar projects, and they have given numerous workshops for teachers.

One adaptation of MIMIC, named Making Industry Real – Radically Occupying Reality or MIRROR, has been offered at an Area Career Center in Missouri.

Commenting on how a 20-year-old program is still being recognized as innovative, Perez said "MIMIC continues to evolve, responding to our students’ needs, workplace needs and what we learn."

Finalists for the Bellwether and the Legacy Award will be announced in December.