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Edible Car Contest Teaches Students Engineering With A Fun Twist

For more than 20 years, Texas Woman’s University  has hosted a build-your-own car contest for kids in grades six through 12. It’s kind of like the Boy Scouts’ Derby Pinewood, only for these cars, think baked good. 

In a crowded TWU auditorium during this year's contest,  4 x 4 x 12 inch vehicles raced down a ramp.

“Guys ready? One, two, three — there it goes,” Mark Hamner, a vice provost at TWU said as he released a long, green vegetable car down the ramp.

“Two point five two [seconds], that was excellent…” Hamner said.

Some take more than a 60 seconds. The fastest this year clocked in at a second and a half.

Welcome to TWU’s 22nd annual edible car contest.

The cars are made of everything from sausage and sugar, to salt and squash.

Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
This Argyle Middle school team made their car completely from vegetables.

Cucumbers and carrots were the main building materials for Kennedy Carter, Maddie Majerczyk, Avari Sandifer and Harleigh Voenig. The Argyle Middle school seventh graders collectively explained what inspired their use of materials.

“It’s vegetarian and it looks like a toad," they said. "Yes. It’s green, like a toad, and we just made it off of an inside joke. Ribbit. Like the frog. Ribbit, ribbit."

Each car gets two runs. In the first heat, the cucumber lost a wheel. The second time, it sped down with only three, in 2.52 seconds. Then it broke apart.

“That’s like the design because the frog, like, jumps! Yes, yes,” said the girls, laughing almost simultaneously. 

Don Edwards
Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
Don Edwards, a retired computer science and math professor at TWU, came up with the edible car contest 22 years ago to get kids interested science, technology, engineering, and math.

The contest was designed to be fun. TWU math and computer science professor Don Edwards came up with the idea 22 years ago. He’s now retired, but wouldn’t miss it.

“I think it’s a great event. It gets students excited, and we teach them teamwork,”  Edwards said. “When you’re designing something you have to follow the specifications. Then, we hope we’re just showing them there are things you can do that are fun, educational and worth doing.”

Tannahill sixth grader Rhyan Duddington's team incorporated sweet treats into their car.

“It’s made of graham crackers, royal icing, salt wheels, spaghetti sticks, sugar, a wafer, rice crispy treats, Cheerios, nerds,  sprinkles, some Oreos, marshmallows,” Rhyan said.

One of her teammates, Kiefer Stanley, explained their inspiration.

“Well I thought of Wreck-It Ralph, the movie, and there’s a candy racing car," Kiefer said. "We basically went off that.” 

Winning is a goal for these four-student teams. Each team must have at least two girls on it. This year there were 58 teams, that's 232 kids. Prizes are given out based on speed, materials, creativity and durability.

Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
This team from Tannahill Intermediate School placed 2nd overall.

Another Tannahill team took 2nd place overall, winning tickets to the Texas Motor Speedway and a cash prize. The sixth graders, Jaxson Westbrook, Macie Munoz, Inara Mihalicz and Nirav Pokhrel, said the win was pretty sweet.

“It’s just really nice to know that you and your team’s work has paid off,” Macie said. 

Brandie Golleher, with TWU, volunteered at the edible car contest for years. Now she runs it. She said no one would want to eat these cars after what they've been through.

“They have been handled by multiple people. They’ve run down a ramp and on the floor," Golleher said laughing. "In my 13 years I’ve never seen a kid eat their car.    

After the hard-fought contest, the kids did get some snacks though.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.