Oakland High Schoolers Need Your Power!

Oakland High Schoolers Need Your Power!


Tony, Carlos, and Raul, students at Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland, have taken on an ambitious senior project they plan to exhibit at Maker Faire: converting a gas-powered truck to electric power. They’ve been working afterschool and weekends and already gave up at least one holiday to work on the conversion. These young men exemplify the self-motivation we see in so many maker projects.

With a week left on their Indiegogo campaign, A Revolution in Oakland: Turning a Gas Truck Electric!, they are looking to the wider MAKE community to make their dream of their EV truck a reality.

lighthouse-EV1About a week after they began, the team discussed with their teacher, Aaron Vanderwerff, what it would take to convert not just a go-kart, but a real car to electric that would then be legally drivable on the roads.

“That’s when they decided that they were in,” Aaron told me. “Tony said that he hadn’t been excited about school this year, but that this project reinvigorated him–and his teachers agreed, that he was actually trying harder in his other classes because the school was supporting him in doing something he was personally interested in.”

Soon after that conversation, they decided they wanted to convert a truck they could use to pick up materials and transport projects for their school’s makerspace, so now the project has a wider community impact … and support!


lighthouse-EV2The team works in one of the roomier parking spaces in the school’s lot. Their mentors, adults in the community, excited and willing to share their time and expertise with these highly motivated high-schoolers, lend a hand in many ways, from helping them figure out how to weld the frame to connecting people who might donate materials or batteries to get the truck running. More recently they have worked with mentors to weld the hinges onto the bed so that the bed can swing up and they can put batteries underneath. One of the students, Carlos, took the initiative to sign up for a two-day welding class at The Crucible in the fall, which is definitely paying off: Carlos’ welding mentor told him that he’s already doing a great job!

Their biggest need now, however, is funding or in-kind donations to cover the components they need for the conversion. The cheapest battery pack they could find runs $5,000, while the charger will be another $2,000 and the adapter plate that connects the electric motor to the transmission costs $1,100. Plus they need a lot of extra costs to make the used truck they found safe and drive-able. Add it up and they are looking at a $15k budget, which is a lot of money for most 18-year-olds.

Tony and his teammates are taking the EV truck conversion one step at a time. He shared that their biggest challenge currently is “getting someone to make us a adapter plate to mate the electric motor and transmission or someone who can give us a discount on a plate if the school buys it.”

But Tony is also looking at the big picture, beyond the truck. He told me, “Taking on this conversion is important to me because it will help me know what I can do as a future career and it can open more doors to other jobs, whether it be converting cars to electric or working on motors, whatever has to do with cars–I’m up for it.”

Tony’s advice to other young makers is to “start by looking at videos online, and just see the craziest thing they find so interesting. Or do something that they have been wanting to do for the longest, but never has the motivation to start it and just take a lot of junk that he or she knows will help in the build and put things together with tape, glue or nails, just mock up a prototype.”

When Tony, Carlos, and Raul finish the truck conversion, they’ll drive their makerspace classmates’ projects down to Maker Faire and then bring it back to scavenge and supply materials for future makerspace projects. This project plugs right in to a larger initiative across all students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade to create a multi-age, multi-use, cross-curriculum Makerspace to Lighthouse Community Charter School.

Please support A Revolution in Oakland: Turning a Gas Truck Electric!

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Michelle, or Binka, makes . While at Maker Media, she oversaw publications, outreach, and programming for kids, families, and schools. Before joining Maker Media in 2007, she worked at the Exploratorium, in Mitchel Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, and as a curriculum designer for various publishers and educational researchers. When she’s not supporting future makers, including her two young sons, Binka does some making of her own, most often as a visual artist.

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