New Jersey High School Auto Shop Class Is Converting Old Volkswagens to Electric Vehicles

Launched around a decade ago, the Memorial High School program has already produced students who are now working in the car industry.

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While most traditional high school programs aim to prepare teenagers to be masters in The Subtle Art of College Test-Taking (And Little Else), one West New York, New Jersey shop teacher has created a curriculum that's both hands-on and impressively forward-thinking. 

In 2005, the elective shop course Ron Grosinger had just started teaching at Memorial High School was dying. The program, which was once taught by six teachers, was helmed by just two and offered little hands-on learning. Grosinger then decided to take matters into his own hands, proposing to school administrators in 2008 a radical curriculum that would see students learn how to convert a gasoline car into an electric car

"If you're teaching students about gasoline cars, that's basically the equivalent of eight-track players," said the high school shop teacher. "With the electric car, I wanted to prove two things. First, that we could convert it. Everyone was telling me at the time that it was impossible when really, we just didn’t have the option yet [on a large scale]. Second, and most important, I wanted to prove that kids are super capable. You just have to give them a chance."

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Ron Grosinger with the all-electric 1990 Volkswagen Cabriolet.

Grosinger took an intense, two-week EV conversion course in San Diego, bought a 1990 Volkswagen Cabriolet with the school's backing, and set out to instruct a band of students on how to convert it to run on electricity only.

The Volkswagen was apparently chosen for its affordable, readily available parts and low weight, which would keep demands on batteries (and the school board's wallet) low.

Students started out making mechanical parts with cardboard before graduating to wood and then steel. They learned how to weld, how to work with wiring, and solved unexpected issues. 

"We completely gutted the car and put it all back together," Grosinger added.

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Less than a year in, Grosinger noticed the popularity of his class among STEM-focused and female students. "The girls in my classes are amazing engineers," said Grosinger. "Through hands-on learning, I hope they are encouraged to maintain and broaden their interest in STEM careers." The New Jersey teacher says his goal is to have one female student for every male student enrolled in his class. 

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The course continued to grow as the years passed and today, the department now staffs four teachers and even offers an after-school automotive program. Grosinger literally and figuratively electrified Memorial's shop program, a program that's already produced students who've gone on to work in the automotive industry.