By Nathan Ham
After a previous grant fell through for the automotive program at Watauga High School, some thoughtful community members rallied together to make up the difference and help keep the program’s mission of converting a gas-powered vehicle to an electric vehicle alive and well.
“I found out through Facebook that the Watauga High School automotive department had a $2,000 grant rescinded that they were going to use to buy batteries for a project that the kids were going to work on,” said John Mena, owner of Haircut 101. “I thought it would be a good idea to see if I could raise some money and generate some interest in it. I started a GoFundMe page and just like that we got $2,500.”
Originally, the automotive class was going to convert an old Volkswagen Beetle into an electric car, but the plan changed to instead convert an old Nissan truck into an electric-powered vehicle.
“We are putting together a Nissan truck that has already been partially converted to electric so we are working on upgrading it to lithium batteries and next year we are hoping to add a solar charging station,” said Erik Mortensen, the automotive instructor at the high school. “It’s always good to see the community coming together but we didn’t expect this.”
Mortensen says that he hopes this will also bring more attention to many of the great Career and Technical Education programs that Watauga High School has to offer.
As for Mena, he too is hoping for more community involvement and recognition of some of the great things happening in the CTE programs in the county.
“I have a client that is the general manager at the Honda dealership and he wrote a check for them. I want to ask some of the automotive dealerships and even the used car dealerships if they could all kick in and contribute to the automotive department at Watauga High School,” he said. “Most of the automotive places around here are looking for mechanics; they can’t find any. Most of these kids that are drawn to these programs want to work with their hands and they get on-the-job training. This could parlay them into a nice profession.”
Mena’s son is in the United States Army and is currently learning how to work on and repair Blackhawk helicopters as part of his career path.
Several students were on hand for a special check presentation to the class, and they are very appreciative that this donation will allow the electric vehicle conversion to continue without a hitch.
“We started in the late fall of 2019 and with this added funding, we will be able to do all sorts of things. We will be able to improve the engine and electrical system,” said Macon Hollars, one of the students in the class. “The project is going to help people be able to afford a reasonable electric car. We have to design it, manufacture it and do the parts and engineering at Watauga High School. The hands-on experience is very crucial and very educational. This is a very life-changing experience.”