Snacks race all the way to the cafeteria

High School students build fastest cars for contest

Hall High School students, The La-sagnas, Hailey Bickert, Kyle Follmer and Connor Whitten took first in creativity and speed.

Tyler Towne

Hall High School students, “The La-sagnas,” Hailey Bickert, Kyle Follmer and Connor Whitten took first in creativity and speed.

Tyler Towne and Aaron Pellican

On Feb. 22, IVCC held the 12th annual Edible Car Contest for high school students and IVCC students and staff in the cafeteria.

Hall dominated the speed run, with teams of calculus students taking first and second and calculus teacher Jill Bruner taking third.

The fastest car, designed by Hailey Bickert, Kyle Follmer, and Connor Whitten, ran the three-foot track in .6 seconds, just .02 seconds faster than the second place team but well behind the record of .42 set by a Hall team in 2012. Utilizing a lasagna noodle for a body, the speediest entry also took a first for creativity.

While the speed run was the highlight of the competition, entries were judged in a number of categories. Streator High’s Alissa Haley, McKelti Goodrich and Sabrina Oberholtzer-Shultz won the design, detail and high school categories and took second in creativity.

DePue’s Naima Moreno, Lili Perez and Austin Cisco captured seconds in design, detail, high school and “Most Protein,” in addition to a third in “Best Use of Carbs.”

The contest, which celebrates National Engineering Week, has been hosted by the Workforce Development Division since 2006 and was originally sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Dorene Data, organizer and coordinator of Computer-Aided Design, said, “Our purpose is to demonstrate that STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, can be creative and fun.” According to participants, the contest succeeded.

Many said the highlight was working in teams to come up with a creative and workable design and even re-design, or “finding new ways to improve the design,” as one student put it.

However, eating food that didn’t work was a definite plus for many participants, while one student said the most difficult part of the process was “leaving some of the food for the car.”

Major racing design challenges, similar to past years, were “axles that do not break” and “getting the wheels to roll,” according to two students.

Among the lessons learned: not only that wheels need to roll but axle assemblies need to keep the body of a vehicle off of the track. A few entries refused to roll, needed a nudge to start, or slid instead of rolling down the three-foot ramp.

Tyler Towne
Many cars, like this whale inspired vehicle made of fondant, don’t even make it down the ramp.

A new special award, dubbed the Iron Man, was presented to LaMoille High’s Thomas Molln, Gabriela Vasquez and Will Flanagan for their vehicle which took a full 62.43 seconds to slide, mostly sideways, down the track, but managed to cross the finish line unassisted.

While the cars may have been low tech, the track mechanism was definitely high tech. For the last few years, IVCC students, working under the guidance of electronics program coordinator Jim Gibson, have created, designed and built a track using a pneumatic rotary actuator hooked to a kitchen spatula used as a starting gate. That device, and the photo reflective eyes used for timing the speed, are controlled by a programmable logic controller (PLC).

Teams start the race by depressing a push button programmed to lift the starting gate (spatula). Speed is calculated by the PLC and displayed utilizing HMI software with results projected on a monitor as actual time and as “mouthfuls per hour.”

Gibson said hardware for this set up stays basically the same each year but the software changes. This year, his students added troubleshooting assistance and alarms to the HMI system. “The system would notify us if the photo eyes were covered, maybe with cheese or icing from the vehicles,” he said.

While the alarm did not go off, occasional track clean-up was required, as well as plastic sheeting to protect surfaces around the track.

Gibson, who has taken the PLC controlled track off campus for contests, said he is willing to bring the setup to schools or organizations.

In addition to IVCC students, a record 18 teams from six high schools competed. Hall was advised by math teacher Jill Bruner, Streator by physics teacher Penny Shrum, Henry-Senachwine by chemistry teacher Becky Whited, St. Bede Academy by science teacher Dan Fitzpatrick, LaMoille by science teacher Nicole Cromwell, and DePue by business teacher Barry Gilstrap.

As spectators and participants were gathering for the speed competition, they competed for prizes by completing a quiz on engineering careers. The question that continues to generate the most incorrect answers is about the percentage of women in engineering careers.

“Women make up less than 20 percent of the engineering workforce,” Data said, explaining that most people believe there is a much higher percentage. “That’s one reason there is a big push nationally to increase the exposure of young women to STEM.”

Judges were Sheri Mitchum, Erin Templeton, Susan Monroe and Rick Serafini. Organizers were Data, Gibson and retired communications instructor Rose Marie Lynch.

The contest is nationally recognized. In 2016, IVCC received its fourth nomination for a prestigious Bellwether Award, a national award which recognizes outstanding and innovative community college projects. In 2012, the contest was one of ten finalists.

Organizers have written a “how to” handbook and given workshops at a number of national conferences to encourage and assist teachers to conduct contests as a fun way to provide hands-on experience for classroom content.
For information and a copy of the handbook, visit