Brandon had never built a car before. Not a problem. After two weeks in Barrington’s Build & Soar summer program, the ninth grader was talking shop like a pro.

“This is the OBD,” he said, pointing to the on-board diagnostics. “It’s the eyes of the car’s computer. It tells what’s going on around the car, the fuel, the taillights, how fast it’s going.”

With the help of Barrington’s father, Barrington Irving Sr., about 50 students from Lancaster Independent School District in Dallas spent their summer transforming a 2002 Subaru WRX into a Factory Five 818 Supercar over the course of the nine-week program.

“The original Subaru goes 140 miles per hour,” said Mr. Irving. “Now we’re taking off 1,000 pounds, so we can probably get closer to 200 miles per hour.” He wiped his brow. “To me it’s like a Herculean task, but of course that’s one of the principles we are trying to convey in terms of taking on any challenge.”

Photo by Jenny Nichols
Photo by Jenny Nichols

It helps to break the project down into smaller, more manageable tasks. Each Build & Soar project is spread over 3 three-week sessions, each with a maximum of 20 students. In week one of the second session, students were working on the car’s chassis, replacing bolts, spindles, and axles. In week two, they began working on the wires and wheels. When we visited in July, students were starting their third week of session two. They were hoping to start the car for the first time by the weekend.

“We are trying to strip down the wires from the Subaru, so we can put our own current in,” said Xavien (grade 9). “We have to remodel all the wires because the engine is in the back of the car now.”

Drawing by Oliver Uberti
Drawing by Oliver Uberti

“What was the most challenging part?” I asked him.

“The most challenging part for me was putting on the wheels because there are so many different parts that go into the wheels. You have to put your brake lines in. You have to make sure your brakes turn on correctly. And then the wheels are heavy. They’re real heavy.”

For Jamerya (grade 7), the most challenging part was also her favorite. “I liked going under the car to rivet.”

“You’re one of few young women who get a chance to build a car,” said Barrington. “What does that feel like?”

“It feels great,” she said with a smile. “I get to wear nail polish and build a car.”

Photo by Jenny Nichols
Photo by Jenny Nichols

In another room at Lancaster High, two instructors from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University were teaching students how to build “UAS” or unmanned aerial systems.

“We don’t use the term ‘drones’ anymore,” said Will Shaler. “The word has a stigma of a military surveillance vehicle because that’s what they originally were in the 1940s.”

“By definition, a drone is a target vehicle meant to be shot down,” said the other instructor, Jamie Glover. “We’re not flying these to be shot down.”

In fact, the students were building them for a much nobler purpose. When complete, the Build & Soar UAS would be equipped with cameras and sent to South Africa to patrol wildlife reserves for poachers.

For this project, Will and Jamie had the students constructing a Ritewing Zephyr II, which uses a “flying wing” design. Essentially, they took the computer from a radio-controlled airplane, changed the software, and attached it to a large V-shaped piece of high-laminated foam. Will said students were learning everything from “how an airplane flies to the math behind the autopilot system.” They even got to show off their art skills by decorating the wings with drawings and a special message: “Hey poachers, smile for the camera!”

Today, UAS are being used for everything from mapping to search and rescue. Traditionally, utility companies would use helicopters to monitor pipelines or inspect high-tension power lines. Now Will said "UAS can get much closer, resulting in more detailed photographs.”

Photo by Oliver Uberti

The more you think about it, the applications are endless. Wildlife researchers can only get so far on foot. Unmanned aircraft can cover miles at a time. For example, in Tillamook, Oregon, researchers have been monitoring double-crested cormorant populations off the coast. This helps manage the fish population, which helps the local fishing industry. “To photograph these populations before,” Will said, “you’d pay $10,000 once a year to hang a photographer out the door of a plane. Now you can spend $1,600 and have a UAS up in the sky every day.”

Same goes for Hollywood. “Why rent a helicopter to get an aerial establishing shot of a landscape when you can send a drone up to do it for far less expense?”

Surprisingly, the industry with the most to gain from UAS may be agriculture. By equipping UAS with special cameras that display healthy green vegetation as red, farmers can quickly survey their fields for more targeted use of pesticides and fertilizers. Judicious use of these chemicals means less waste and runoff into our lakes and rivers, which means fewer toxic algal blooms, fewer dead zones, and fewer contaminated water supplies like the one residents in Toledo, Ohio endured earlier this year. Not only do farmers save money by using less fertilizer, they save their immediate environment, too.

“Robots are great for the 3 D’s,” said Will. “Anything that’s dirty, dull, or dangerous like mapping sewers or disarming bombs.”

You can add one more use to that list: getting kids excited about a STEM career.

“I’ve talked to one of my friends about all the stuff we’ve been doing,” said Xavien. “He told me he was going to make an attempt to come to the third session.”

Watching these students discover what’s possible inspires Barrington, too. “It’s exciting to show students how to build something. And that it’s not impossible to build anything you put your mind to.”


If you or your school are interested in participating in Build & Soar, please contact Rajeev Brown at 305.537.9291 or

FINAL STOP: Miami, Florida