When a group of aspiring engineers needed funding for their high school’s solar-powered go-kart team, they took a chance and asked one of the nation’s largest electrical contractors to sponsor them. As it turns out, that leap of faith resulted in a mutually beneficial partnership. For the students, the sponsorship granted them the funding and insights they needed to build and race their kart. Not only has this partnership provided funding and insight, but it has also helped in cultivating a relationship that could serve as a recruitment tool for a business whose industry is suffering from a shortage of skilled labor and a retiring workforce.
Since 2017, Rosendin Electric Inc., a member of multiple AGC chapters, has worked with students from Independence High School in Glendale, Ariz., to sponsor their team in the Racing the Sun program and competition. Racing the Sun is a STEM program in which students construct and race a solar-powered go-kart.
With the help of Rosendin’s backing, the12-person Independence High School team was able to place sixth overall in this year’s competition, with their fastest lap time at80.219 seconds. In 2017, the team swept all three categories in its division with first-place awards and followed that in 2018 with first place for efficiency.
“Knowing the students spent an entire year building the project and then competed against some of the best high schools in the nation is really a big accomplishment for a little high school in Glendale, Arizona,” says Matthew Massic, the engineering science instructor who advises the Independence team.
Rosendin’s support for the team, however, doesn’t end at the finish line. Company officials see the sponsorship as an opportunity to introduce students to STEM careers, including those in electrical contracting, construction and engineering. The relationship serves as a workforce development initiative to recruit future Rosendin employees, giving Independence students a head start on setting their career paths.
“Getting involved in an event like this allows us to stay in front of kids who are graduating and show them we’re here for them even after high school,” says Krystal Keilholtz, business development coordinator for the Rosendin office in Tempe, Ariz.
STUDENTS ACCEPT CHALLENGE
Tech Parks Arizona at the University of Arizona started the Racing the Sun program in 2011 to teach students to problem-solve using solar energy in a real-world experience.
In addition to the race, students must complete a series of milestones, participate in workshops, create technical drawings, conduct presentations, work with mentors like Rosendin employees, and attend field trips. In this year’s race, more than 100 students from 12 Arizona schools competed with their custom-made, solar-powered karts in the 1,264-meter track at the Musselman Honda Circuit in Tucson, Ariz.
Independence High School has been participating in Racing the Sun since 2016, shortly before the Rosendin sponsorship came about. “I wanted to do a project that was challenging and would engage the students and give them an opportunity to create a program around what we were doing, using some of my skills,” Massic says.
One of the requirements of the Racing the Sun program is for teams to participate in the Arizona Construction Career Days event, where students from across the state get to meet industry leaders from various STEM-related careers. Racing the Sun participants from various high schools were able to meet representatives from Rosendin. One of the company’s business development representatives made an offer to the students: Come to the Rosendin offices to deliver a presentation explaining why the company should get involved in Racing the Sun, and Rosendin would consider supporting them. Independence was the only school that followed through, and so Rosendin agreed to be the team’s sponsor. “At the time, we were looking to establish our brand a bit more locally,” says Keilholtz. “We thought it would be a great opportunity to get involved with the kids and let them know there are a lot of opportunities in construction other than working outside in the heat.”
SUPPORT FOR RACING AND BEYOND
The Rosendin sponsorship provides much-needed funding and support to the Independence team. The school district pays for Independence’s initial sign-on for Racing the Sun, which costs about $2,000, but the team is responsible for all other expenses. It can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $3,500 to build and race a kart. The Rosendin sponsorship covers those costs, including travel expenses, materials, and personal protection equipment. “It made such a big difference for us,” Massic says.
“I’ve been able to use this program as a stepping stone to further my education.” ~ Alexander Longoria, a junior at Independence.
Rosendin provides technical support, too. Building the kart involves welding with aluminum, taking measurements and making cuts at the exact angles, and students must learn and apply these skills to complete the project. Last year, Rosendin helped the team manufacture a part for their car and has been available to answer questions and help the team troubleshoot. “They’re always asking us, ‘What can we give you to help? What can we do?’ So having that kind of support is reassuring to have,” Massic says.
By establishing a relationship with the high school team, Rosendin is able to develop career opportunities for students, who can reach out to the company for training and jobs after they graduate. “We’re trying to get information to these students that this is a career. There are plenty of pathways to do anything you want in the construction market,” says Stephan Cole, workforce development coordinator for Rosendin in Tempe, Ariz. Rosendin also offers apprenticeships for students over the age of 18. Cole himself started out with Rosendin’s apprenticeship program before the company hired him to do recruitment and workforce development. “That’s kind of an intangible Rosendin has offered us,” Massic says. “It’s an opportunity for students to gain employment in the field of their choice.” Alexander Longoria is one student who wants to take advantage of this opportunity. Longoria, a junior at Independence, has been a lead electrician for the school’s team for the past two years and is tasked with wiring the entire cart.
Longoria has been in contact with Cole and Keilholtz about pursuing Rosendin’s apprenticeship program after he turns 18. From there, he plans to obtain a degree in electrical and mechanical engineering and pursue a career in that field. It’s a career path Longoria had never considered until he got involved with Racing the Sun and the Rosendin partnership.
“I’ve been able to use this program as a stepping stone to further my education,” Longoria says.
The program has piqued the interest of other students, too. Massic estimates about 90 percent of his team plan to pursue a career in engineering and at least three team members who have since graduated are now enrolled in engineering programs at universities throughout the state.
AGC Charities, Inc. was established in 2008 as a charitable organization to carry out the charitable activities of AGC of America and operates exclusively for charitable, scientific and educational purposes. AGC in the Community is an initiative of AGC Charities, Inc., designed to showcase the community service projects of AGC of America’s chapter sand members. The awards recognize chapter and member service projects that epitomize the essence of charitable giving, through actual hands-on service and donations to charitable organizations.
“All of this really wouldn’t be possible without Rosendin’s backing,” Massic says. “The pathways they’re creating for students are what this whole program is about.” Rosendin has been able to bring students into its fabrication department to introduce them to new ideas and best practices for building their go-karts. On one occasion, Rosendin invited over a group of students from several high schools involved in Racing the Sun, including Independence. The company introduced the students to project managers and estimators and gave them a tour of Rosendin’s prefab warehouse to see where employees assemble electrical conduit. Students also visited Rosendin’s BIM lab to learn about how construction workers can see what they’re about to build before they have any physical materials on the job.
“We’ve received a lot of great feedback,” Cole says. “The mentors were really excited about seeing what we’re doing.” For Rosendin, being able to connect with young talent early on presents recruitment opportunities that might not have been available otherwise. “As our corporate mission states, our goal is to build quality, build value and build people,” Cole says. “This goes to all three of those aspects.”