InTrans / Aug 17, 2012

A pleasurable struggle: When childhood dreams come true

Go! Magazine

Soap box derby cars

posted on August 17, 2012

My name is Stefon Gonzalez and I’m a four year member of the West Philly Hybrid X-Team (aka EVX Team), and a graduate of the Sustainability Workshop. The EVX Team started as an after school program where students designed and built hybrid cars and took part in competitions. The EVX team program evolved into a new school at the Philadelphia Navy Yard called the Sustainability Workshop.

Stefon Gonzalez West Philly High
Stefon Gonzalez
West Philly High

It all started when I was in the ninth grade and found out I was going to West Philly High School. I didn’t know whether I should be happy or terrified. I say this because I knew about West Philly High’s automotive program, since my brother was in it, but I also knew this school didn’t have the greatest reputation. The school had a very high drop out rate, and it was not the safest school for new students to attend.

So, I got myself together and went through the enrollment process. It was my very first day of high school. I was a little bit nervous, but I dealt with it—came to find out that it was not as bad as it sounded. It turned out to be a pretty relaxing day; I got to see what my math, reading, and science classes were going to be like. But the day wasn’t over; it was about 1 p.m., and I had one more class according to my roster—“Automotive Tech.”

I was excited and knew I would love it. So I walked down to the garage, preparing to see tools, machines, and normal cars. But that’s not what I saw; I saw a race car that was sitting in the middle of the garage floor! From this moment on, I was hooked, and I made it my duty to find out more. So I pulled the teacher, Mr. Preiss, to the side and asked him about the car. He explained to me why the car was a hybrid and that it was built by a group of students that went to West Philly High (see the news report).

Being that this was before the class even started, he said, “Wait until class starts so I can tell the whole group.” So after everyone got settled, he told the group about the car. He said we should all join the EVX team. Most of the students didn’t want to join the team, but I did. I love fast cars and I love being a part of a team, so it was a no-brainer for me.

The EVX team

So I showed up to the team’s first meeting, and it was amazing; all we talked about was cars, racing, and what we would build next.

So, months and months passed and we started turning wrenches. It was the beginning of my 10th grade year when we started on a whole new project. We built two cars for an international competition called the Progressive Automotive X-Prize. We decided to build a Factory 5 GTM and a 2008 Ford Focus. Both cars used the latest hybrid technology and both cars got more than 100MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent).

This was our biggest competition and it was a major challenge, but we got through to the end. We beat out 90 other teams, companies, and universities, and made it to the semi-finals. Check out the video that aired on PBS Frontline for the full story.

EVX GT (a diesel electric sports car)
EVX GT (a diesel electric sports car)

Opened doors

Being in this competition, and being on the team, has opened a lot of doors for me. In between working on the cars, I did a lot of networking and public speaking. I got to travel all over the east coast to spread the word about our team and our cars. I took public speaking classes from a national organization called Toastmasters, and I joined a drag racing team called Morris Racing. However, the biggest door that this experience opened for me was a close relationship with the local public transportation company called SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority).

One day at school, one of the guys we worked with told me about a summer internship at SEPTA. I really didn’t believe him, but it was true. A few weeks later, I was going through the process of working for one of my favorite companies—SEPTA! I made it into the program, and I was really working on trains! I could not believe it and neither did some of my family members. I was literally “living my dream”! Ever since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be associated with race cars and big vehicles. But my love for public transportation came out of nowhere. I always used to ride the trains and trolleys with my brother, and I was always fascinated, but I guess I was too young to think about it as a career.

Living the dream

This is my 3rd summer working for SEPTA and I’m loving every minute of it. In 2010, when I first did the program, I was the youngest intern. Currently, I am the only intern to ever do the program three years in a row. Since I took the program seriously, they also accepted me into their apprenticeship program, which I started in September 2012. So, dreams do come true. I went from riding the trains as a child to fixing them when they break down.

By Stefon Gonzalez

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