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Innovative students motor on at J.H. Bruns

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There’s a car out there that gets 250 miles to the gallon.  

You didn’t misread the last sentence. And it’s not a futuristic space age car that you might find on The Jetsons. And it’s not Ford or Toyota unleashing a secret supercar.

The car belongs to a team of high school students from J.H. Bruns Collegiate in St. Boniface. They recently competed in the Supermileage Competition  organized by the Minnesota Technology Educators and Engineering Association of Minnesota.

In mid May, the J.H. Bruns Supermileage Team, led by industrial arts teacher Shaun Volkart, ventured to Brainerd, Minn. to test two single-seat cars they had been building and tweaking all year.  Both cars moved at a maximum 30 mp/h as they completed two laps on a three-mile track.  

The project required a variety of interdisciplinary skills: design, welding, problem-solving, science and math theory, teamwork, communication, even salesmanship.

The team discussed all ideas, drew and inputted designs into a computer graphics program, revised the shape for optimum aerodynamics, and continually tweaked a 2.4 horsepower Briggs and Stratton motor.  Every part of the car was built from scratch. The chassis was welded together by Grade 12 student, Riley Bale, the certified welder of the group.  

Mitch Stephanson, the team leader and aspiring engineer, likes the notion that the project stretches the conventional high school experience.

"It’s a real team environment and we run it like a business. We need to find sponsorships and build relationships in the real world. If we don’t meet our May deadlines, we don’t race."

Mitch and the team recruited several sponsors to the team including Woodcock Cycle, Hitrac, Merit Contractors Association, Oakley Optical Eyecare, St. Anne’s Esso, Wal-Mart St. Vital, New Flyer, Canadian Tire, Southdale Dental Centre and Loka. The J.H. Bruns parent and student councils also threw in some important funding.

Ty Riel, a future carpenter and a three-year veteran of the team, noted how the team had to pass a series of technical car and safety tests during the first day of the event, and it wasn’t always easy.

"When we failed a portion of the testing, we had to fix the problems quickly. When a carburetor didn’t work properly, we had to figure out how to fix it quickly or we won’t be allowed to race."

Each year the team has been in the competition, they’ve improved their mileage numbers, from 194 miles to the gallon in 2009 to 250 in May.

Volkart started the project because he was looking a "practical application of skills outside the class" and that the mileage competition offered ways "to test skills in real life situations."

The only Canadian group in the event was spurred on by its  best-ever second and third place finishes in the exhibition category. They are looking to improve their results in future competitions.

Most of the team is moving on to post secondary education, many in engineering and design-related fields, and the remaining teammates, such as Grade 10 student, Brady Stephanson, will have to carry the load and lead a new group of recruits. Brady hopes to achieve 350 miles to the gallon.

The students’ eyes gleam as Volkart talks about creating an electrical car next year.

Another student talks about adding a touch screen speedometer/odometer.

And why not? This innovative project, full of designers, thinkers and problem-solvers know that they are limited only by their imagination, design savvy and work ethic.

And with more and more companies clamouring for innovative problem-solvers, these kids will certainly need to get working on another important future hot-in-demand project — their résumés.

Adriano Magnifico is a community correspondent for St. Boniface. You can contact him at

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