Solar Cars have a unique ability to draw people in, I have often had the pleasure of seeing this ability first-hand. Put a Solar Car in a quiet place of little to no activity and surely with a little time a crowd will grow, curiosity leads people to come closer. The mix of something so different and unique together with its technology and energy of youth is an eclectic combination that ignites the spark of imagination in all who come close to it.
The Sasol Solar Challenge has since 2012 harnessed this unique ability of Solar Cars and the teams that drive them, to draw scholars in from across the country. We use these futuristic vehicles to draw the students in and then once we have their attention, we share with them the opportunities which Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) can offer them. This is the basis of the Sasol Solar Challenge Education Programme, to drive interest and excitement in STEM across South Africa. We seek to open young minds to the possibilities that exist to them beyond their horizons by focusing on and working hard on these subjects, the new careers which are available and the international opportunities.
I am often asked how I sum up the Education Programme of the Sasol Solar Challenge, what is the highlight. For me it is the following story.
In 2018 during a control stop in Middelburg Eastern Cape I witnessed an exchange which captured the essence of the Sasol Solar Challenge. A young lady of rural background and upbringing was exchanging ideas on the engineering of a Solar Car with her counterpart on the team from Japan. Although these two came from backgrounds which could not be more different and had an unimaginable language barrier, their shared language and love of engineering brought them together. I quietly observed them for 5 minutes, until their exchange was politely interrupted as the team had to get back on the road. They quietly shook hands and as the team and car left the young lady returned to her friends. As she walked past me completely unaware of my presence, I noticed in her eyes a new sparkle of hope. I believe that this 5-minute exchange with a peer from across the other side of the world fundamentally altered her thinking of what is possible, and that perhaps her future could be different to what she thought possible before that day. I hope and believe that the spark that we ignited that day grew into a raging fire inside her to follow her dreams.
This is the essence of the Sasol Solar Challenge Education Programme, to ignite a spark or plant a seed across the young minds of South Africa. To bring the message of STEM to those in the furthest reaches of our country and to inspire them to reach for the Sun.
In 2022 we will once again hit the roads and highways of South Africa, delivering this message of inspiration, and fuelling dreams of our future engineers with nothing but the energy of the Sun.
Sasol Solar Challenge Director.