The charity inspiring the next generation of tech innovators

The charity EVolocity is inspiring the next generation of sustainable engineers and technology innovators, through a hands-on programme giving intermediate and secondary students the chance to build and race their own electric vehicles. The EVolocity programme not only teaches participants practical skills, but students also learn about problem-solving, perseverance, and teamwork. 

EVolocity is one of the remarkable community groups chosen to take part in Z Energy's (Z) Good in the Hood campaign for 2023. Good in the Hood supports local community groups by giving them a share of $1 million to do good in their neighbourhood.  

"We're building more than just electric vehicles – we're building the next generation of  innovators, along with the skills they need to make a positive impact on their future, and the world they live in," says Jo Morgan, EVolocity's head of partnerships. 

The EVolocity programme takes place over the course of the school year and is open to all students from year 7 to 13. All participating teams receive a starter kit at the beginning of the year, consisting of a 350-watt electric motor, controller and two 12-volt gel cells. It's then up to them to put their creativity to the test and design and build an electric vehicle - either from a bike or a kart with three or more wheels. In October, regional finals are held around the country, giving students the chance to pit their vehicles against one another, competing in categories such as performance, innovation and design. 

Teams take part in a number of workshops throughout the year, learning skills such as welding, CAD design and Arduino programming. They also have to learn about marketing, finance and budgeting in order to bring their creative ideas to fruition. 

Morgan says the ultimate goal of the programme is to inspire more youth - particularly those coming from low-decile schools - to pursue further education in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and sustainable engineering. Around 22 percent of students taking part are Māori or Pasifika and there is also a growing number of girls taking part, around 19 percent of participants. 

"Our mission is to break down barriers and inspire rangatahi into sustainable engineering while fast-forwarding New Zealand's clean tech future," says Morgan. While EVolocity has a team of three dedicated technical experts who help give specialised engineering and build advice, the charity also works with volunteer mentors who come from the organisation's trade and tertiary partners, and students' schools and families.  

Morgan says as well as teaching practical skills, the mentors "introduce new ways of thinking" to the students - "sharing valuable life lessons and much more". 

"We learn from our failures. Along the way, there are things that go wrong - especially when you're using anything technical or you're relying on anything mechanical or electrical - and the mentors use these opportunities to teach our young participants, how do we get around this, how do we fix this and how do we make it better? They can take those skills into the real world when they leave school." 

As well as imparting their own knowledge, mentors also learn from the students. 

"Some of our more seasoned mentors have been blown away by the engineering innovation they have seen from our students," says Morgan. 

The programme currently operates in eight regions across the country - Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty/Rotorua, Taranaki, Manawatu, Wellington, Nelson and Canterbury - and in 2022, 151 teams from 93 schools took part. Around 40 percent of students taking part in EVolocity use the programme to gain NCEA credits, while roughly 60 percent of students do so as an extracurricular activity. 

And it's not just secondary schools that enrol teams - participants also come from community groups such as Scouts and other youth charities, as well as other more vulnerable groups like youth justice facilities. 

"We have worked with young people who come from troubled backgrounds, and they've actually become really focused and had something to look forward to and use their creativity and kinetic learning," says Morgan. 

"Engineering is all about problem-solving. We teach our young people to take a problem and translate it into a viable solution. This is a skill they can take with them and apply to almost every aspect of their lives." 

This year, Z will surpass the $10 million milestone in donations to community groups and charities throughout Aotearoa New Zealand since 2011, largely enabled through its Good in the Hood programme. 

Customers who shop in-store at Z are given an orange token to pop in one of four boxes to vote for their favourite local group, like EVolocity, with $4,000 per Z station split between the participating groups based on the number of votes they receive. To vote for EVolocity, make a purchase at either Z Sandringham, Z Templeton or Z Sunnybrae before October 23 and use your orange token to cast your vote. 

Article created in partnership with Z Energy.