Carlos Alonzo, a 15-year-old engineer at Minddrive, was always good at math.
In the seventh grade, Alonzo’s teachers gave him the opportunity to skip ahead and take algebra. Although he enjoyed it and did well in the class, he ran into a problem: His school didn’t offer him an advanced class for eighth grade.
That one-year break from math led Alonzo to realize how much he loved the subject.
“I wanted to learn more, but nothing was offered to me,” he said. “That year definitely created a slump for me. I didn’t know what else to do with myself.”
Fortunately for Alonzo, he was introduced to Minddrive, an out-of-school program that offers STEM, project-based-learning activities, with a focus on electric automotive design.
Now a sophomore at Alta Vista High School, Alonzo has participated in Minddrive’s automotive design studio classes for about two years. He also has developed an interest in robotic engineering.
Blown away by all the available gadgets at his disposal — from 3D printers and drones to tools for metal fabrication, welding, woodworking and automotive restoration — he said Minddrive doesn’t feel like normal school.
“I was completely astonished by everything that was around me,” Alonzo said. “I never thought that there would be a program like this in anywhere I lived near.”
He currently is building an electrathon race car for a competition in which Minddrive students design, build and then race a vehicle powered by rechargeable batteries.
Minddrive began in 2010 as a class taught by Steve Rees at DeLaSalle Education Center. It pivoted into a nonprofit focused on teaching youth automotive design. Since then, Minddrive includes other offerings for those who are not-so-inclined to enjoy auto-repair.
In addition to participating in the Automotive Design Studio, high school-aged students from any part of the Kansas City can attend the Digital Arts and Design class, which teaches Adobe Creative Suite, coding, photography and videography.
The program has served about 500 students from more than 21 schools since its launch, said Paula Guinn, executive director of Minddrive.
“Although we do have a STEM focus in what we do, our purpose is to get students engaged in their education, expand their vision for the future and for them to become productive in contributing members of society,” Guinn said. “What makes Minddrive stand apart more than our STEM offerings is our mentorship component. We place one mentor for every two to three students in our program.”
Minddrive sees itself as a youth development program more than a school, Guinn said, touting the program alumni’s 100-percent high school graduation rate.
“We really try to target students in schools that don’t have access to some of these project-based-learning or STEM programs,” she said. “With the community that students are able to build with volunteers, they see people coming in and spending time with them and the impact it made on them, leading students to want to make the same impact as well.”
It’s a cycle. When someone gives to you, it makes students want to give back, she said.
With the belief that all youth deserve an opportunity to create, Minddrive is proud to be a leader in project-based learning in Kansas City, Guinn said.
“Through the hands-on, project-based learning experience, we’re able to take what youth are learning in the classroom and make it come alive,” Guinn said. “We see this as a way to add and enhance what students are already learning in school.”
Minddrive is planning an open house 10 a.m. Nov. 18, inviting members of the community to see the facility and talk to students.
To learn more about Alonzo and his journey, watch the video below: