I’m from Arlington Heights, IL. Before getting to Michigan and before I had even heard about the Solar Car Team, I knew I needed to find a team-based engineering project to join. You see, In high school I was on a F.I.R.S.T. Robotics team, Team #111 Wildstang, and until my first Monday night General Team Meeting, Wildstang was the coolest team I had been a part of. When I first arrived in Ann Arbor, I wanted to be a mentor for a F.I.R.S.T. Robotics team in the area, mainly because I had decided to focus my academic career in the humanities but didn’t want to lose touch with engineering and the competitive team atmosphere I’d enjoyed so much with robotics. And so, the fall of my freshman year I went to a Monday night meeting to learn more about the team. I joined the team that night. I dabbled in the different divisions until it became clear that the Operations Division needed the most attention. The Ops slowly grew; we had a team of students who would meet regularly to contact potential sponsors as we tried to secure supplies and resources for upcoming domestic events and the World Solar Challenge in Australia.
When Race Crew selection for the 2007 World Solar Challenge (WSC) came around, I was selected to be part of Continuum’s Race Crew and help the Ops crew plan the logistical effort involved in moving our people and goods to, within, and from Australia. It was then that I talked more and more with 2005 Ops Director Maggie Hayes, who became a wonderful mentor throughout my time on Race Crew. As the logistics lead, I planned, a lot. While no amount of planning could have mentally prepared us for what happened on day one of the 2007 WSC when Continuum crashed, our team nonetheless remained focused. Continuum was up and running the next day thanks to our team’s steadfast work ethic, the willingness of well-placed strangers to lend a helping hand, and the support of friends and family who were literally following the race or doing so half way around the world.
During the two years I spent on Solar Car I learned a lot of things that you won’t find on my transcript. Like how to ask people for money, a skill I went on to use my senior year when I joined the board of and fundraised for the Latino Students Organization, doubling the previous year’s budget. I also learned how to get free stuff, a skill I used immediately after my time on the team to send a group of Michigan students to a conference in New York City. Those skills are all very useful and in one way, shape, or form I’ll continue to improve them throughout my life. However, the most important take-away are the teammates and mentors I met. One person is both, Chito Garcia has been an unwavering advocate for Michigan Solar Car teams for several decades, his experience as a mentor and dedication as a teammate made him one of our team’s greatest assets.
Racing is exciting and glamorous, but at the end of the day, my fondest memories involve long hours of cold-calling strangers in a small trailer located outside the Wilson Center, the drive to the workspace while playing imaginary instruments, and meetings at the overcrowded house on 5thand Madison. Although my Solar Car Team days are behind me, the friends I met on the team remain an important part of my life. From running marathons to globetrotting, I have had and will continue to have trusty old friends at my side who I met on solar car.
Michigan’s tradition of excellence is epitomized in the Solar Car Team, and still, it is common to get wrapped up in the challenges that face us throughout our time on the team. Each new team gains a generation of knowledge and experience, and it shows. My advice to the current team members and future teams is to question your predecessors, challenge their decisions, and improve on their work. Oh, and forever Go Blue!
After graduating from Michigan in 2009 with degrees in Political Science and Spanish I moved to Washington, DC for graduate school to study foreign affairs at Georgetown University. I currently work for the U.S. Department of State where I focus on public diplomacy initiatives for youth audiences around the world.
This post and all captions were written by former team member, Roxanna Vigil.