A-C supermileage success comes from hard work and perseverance

Published 3:00 pm Saturday, February 24, 2024

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By Kim Gooden for the Tribune

The supermileage teams at Alden-Conger School have reaped much success during the past 24 years.

They have competed since 1993 in the Minnesota Technology and Engineering Educators Association (MTEEA) Supermileage Challenge in Brainerd and hold multiple state records.

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In 2011 they began participating in the Shell Eco Marathon (now known as the Shell Americas Ecomarathon) in Houston, Texas; Detroit, Michigan; Sonoma Raceway in California and Indianapolis, Indiana, where they have brought home many trophies, awards and checks for top finishes.

As a result of their top finishes, they have been invited to the Drivers’ World Championship in London, England, twice, Weybridge, Surrey, United Kingdom once, and most recently in Bangalore, India.

They were also invited to the Ferrari factory in Maranello, Italy, where they visited with designers and engineers from Ferrari.

And all of these accomplishments have come under the supervision of two different leadership teams, dozens of different team members, many new and modified cars in different categories, and rules and regulations changes.

Dave Bosma, a science teacher at Alden-Conger, took over the supermileage program in 1999 and continued until 2016 when Amy and Mark Wallin and James Sorensen took over the program.

Bosma, who also farms, said he had to quit his leadership role because the time constraints were getting to be too much.

“The last year I was the adviser, I was up at 3 a.m. to plant my crops so I could go with the team to competition,” he said. “Something had to change.”

Fearing that the program wasn’t going to be continued when no one stepped up to take over, Wallin, her husband and Sorensen agreed to be co-advisers.

They have since added Sam Jacobs, a former supermileage team member, and two other parents to the advisory roles.

“We didn’t want to see a program like this go away,” Wallin said. “This program has huge community support and there are kids who want to do it and are passionate about it.”

Wallin agreed that it is a very big commitment to be involved with supermileage from November through May. She hopes by adding two more advisers they can alternate the supervision, and that will help to retain the experienced leadership and not burn them out.

According to Bosma and Wallin, the role of advisers is to demonstrate and teach the team members the skills and things they need to know to build and work on the supermileage cars. Skills such as how to take an engine apart and rebuild it, how to weld, how to build a body for a new car, how to modify previous cars, and how to fix things when they aren’t working.

“The goal is to have the team members build the cars themselves,” Bosma said.

Even if that means failure at times.

Bosma and Jacobs believe that letting team members fail is OK because that’s how they figure out what needs to be done to fix it.

“I would let them fail and then talk about what they needed to do,” Bosma said.

Jacobs tells team members he is mentoring, “I’d rather have you do it yourself, fail and have to start over, than have you rely on the advisers as a crutch.”

The motto on their team shirts when they went to India was, “We do it right because we do it twice.”

“That’s how it is,” Wallin noted. “If you do it wrong the first time, you do it again. And hopefully when you do it again it works.”

Sometimes it doesn’t.

An example of that happened when the team was in India and their car was not performing as it should.

“They knew they couldn’t get into the finals,” Wallin recalled. “But they didn’t give up. They kept trying.”

They ended up in 10th place, disappointed but happy that they had accomplished that.

It is that perseverance, combined with hard-working, hands-on teammates who want to learn and who want to win, that Wallin credits with the ongoing success of the supermileage program at Alden-Conger.

Bosma believes it is also knowledge built on top of other knowledge that brings success.

“All those years of learning by doing and learning from their mistakes,” he said.

They also learn by talking to, and getting ideas from, other teams.

Conversations with other teams not only help them with their cars, but with their communication skills as well.

“At some of the events they have to be interviewed,” Wallin said. “At all the events they communicate with other teams and make connections with students from colleges and universities.”

These are things that build confidence and open doors for supermileage participants.

Jacob Wallin, a former team member who pursued a mechanical engineering degree after high school, said his experiences through the supermileage program had an impact on him.

“I was lucky enough to be part of the first group to compete at the Shell Eco-Marathon, which was held in Houston, Texas,” Wallin said. “That single experience alone was more than what most middle or high school students get to experience, but as a program we were fortunate enough to be competitive and get local sponsorships to continue to compete at that competition the following years, including the team today.”

Throughout his time in supermileage, Wallin remembers having some great successes and great failures.

“Still today we have multiple state records,” he noted. “But there were also years where we fell short — and those are lessons that are not easily taught. I learned many skills and a life lesson here or there through the mentors that supported and continue to support the program.

“This program gave me more opportunities than most kids could dream of, including trips to the West Coast to see the NASCAR shops and a world competition held in London.”

As a member of the supermileage team, Wallin was able to make connections between hands-on mechanical work and theoretical calculations and design, which led him to choose mechanical engineering as a degree when he went to college.

Wallin is now a systems engineer at McNeilus Truck and Manufacturing, where he is the lead in control system development and prototype builds for the electrification program, and as he supports the hiring of new employees, he looks for experiences such as supermileage, as a standout attribute.

He credits the skills he learned from public speaking and team leadership with helping him get jobs and be successful once in a role.

“All in all, I attribute many of my education and career successes to the foundation that mentors helped me build throughout my time with the supermileage program,” he concluded.

Former team member Caleb Sorensen also learned many life lessons from his involvement on the supermileage team, including how to work with teammates who had different skills than him.

The program played a big part in helping him decide on his future as well.

“I learned how to weld from an older teammate,” he said. “And it was something I enjoyed doing. Now I am in welding school.”

For Sorensen. the skills he learned through the supermileage program, the connections he made with local businesses and the friendships with fellow team members were valuable outcomes of his involvement with the program.

Advisers, team members, rules, regulations, cars, categories and locations may change, but the supermileage program at Alden-Conger continues to provide learning opportunities to its participants — and add to its list of successes.