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MINDDRIVE Teaches Kids To Build Electric Cars - From Scratch

Amanda Schnieders on April 08, 2014 Source: e360 Blog

Amanda SchniedersThe whir and high-pitched screech draw my ear, but the flashing specks of bright light shooting up from a work station across the garage force me to look away. The mentor and student working around the station do not flinch. They're both used to all the excitement by now. MINDDRIVE has become their second home on Saturdays, as it has to all the other mentors and students participating in the program that teaches kids how to build cars--from scratch.

When Steve Rees, a retired DeLaSalle educator, approached the school wanting to teach a creative studio class, the school said sure, you can start tomorrow.

“I saw these kids had a certain grit in them, because of their circumstances in life,” Rees said. “A grit where if given the chance maybe they could do something more creative.”

 DeLaSalle, a charter high school in Kansas City, Mo. serves urban students in need of an alternative to traditional school.  Rees started the class “Creative Studio and Entrepreneurial Studies” where he had the kids building bridges out of toothpicks and reading the New York Times business section, and being a car guy, he helped the students build a life size model of a car, made out of Styrofoam. Soon the students started asking, with more and more enthusiasm, why they couldn’t make a real car.

“Oh no, we couldn’t do that I kept saying. Slowly, I realized I was trying to get them to think outside the box, and yet, I was the one who was standing in the box,” Rees said.

Since then, MINDDRIVE has grown from a small side project of DeLaSalle to an independent non-profit that serves 40 students a year from the urban core of Kansas City.  The Automotive Design Studio class has evolved into refurbishing old car models that now run on electric power. Yes, these kids are not only rebuilding cars, but they’re turning them into green-friendly modes of transportation. They haven’t stopped there though. MINDDRIVE now offers a communications class where the students learn to tell their MINDDRIVE stories through video, photo and social media channels, as well as classes in welding and lighting design. Along with mentors from the community who work one-on-one with the students and their projects, MINDDRIVE participants are learning to look at things from a new perspective—one with infinite possibilities.

We’re asking ourselves what skills can we help give these kids to open their minds to even more opportunities,” Rees said.

The MINDDRIVE program pushed itself even further in 2012when it took one of its electric cars on a demonstration run from San Diego, Calif. To Jacksonville, Fla., garnering the attention of media across the globe and even catching the eye of mega-entrepreneur Richard Branson. The program has also found appropriate sponsors in Bridgestone and Hertz to fund the continuation.


I travel from station to station collecting footage of the students and their mentors working. Occasionally I stop to ask a question about what they are working on, or how they got involved with MINDDRIVE. Several of them go to shake my hand, and then refrain, remembering they’re covered in car grease or paint. Instead, offering smiles and polite answers. It’s hard not to buy into the pros of experiential learning standing in this loud and chaotic evidence of what can happen when you roll up your sleeves and get your hands a little dirty. Because when you stand back at the end of the day, and lay eyes upon something created by your own hands, it’s hard not to see the infinite opportunities and possibilities in front of you.

Picture Right: MINDDRIVE alumna Christana Moore tells me about her post-MINDDRIVE plans, now that she's a sophomore at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo.

Tags:  MINDDRIVE, Top of Mind, experiential learning, automotive design, students, extracurricular program, communications, urban core, Kansas City, Steve Rees, DeLaSalle High School, Richard Branson, electric cars, welding, lighting design,

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