Michelle Obama’s special guest at the State of the Union: A member of the West Philly High EVX team


A casual listener to the first thirty minutes of last night’s “Win the Future”-themed State of the Union speech could be forgiven for thinking it was written by Thomas Friedman. Amid references to South Korean broadband and Chinese cleantech, President Obama laid out a national strategy for America in the age of the flattening world, rooted in increased R&D investment, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education, entrepreneurialism, and foreign talent retention.

Although he didn’t get a direct shout-out from the President, there was one very special guest in the room, sitting with the First Lady, who embodies many of these themes: Brandon Ford, a high school junior at West Philadelphia High School and a member of its Hybrid EVX Team, led by ‘mad scientist-meets-science-teacher’ Simon Hauger.

Together, Hauger and his students have created a one-of-a-kind program in which a team of twenty or so students and seven instructors design and build road-ready, next-generation hybrid electric automobiles. Last year, the team drew national attention in their quest to compete for and win the Automotive X Prize; although they didn’t ultimately win, they were serious competitors, besting several elite university programs and commercial teams backed by more money, age, and experience.

At PopTech 2010, Hauger and another inspiring student member of the Hybrid EVX Team, Azeem Hill, presented their team’s work and showed off their truly bad-ass creations, a diesel-electric GT. Beyond the cool factor of the finished product, there is a deeper message in the EVX Team’s story for everyone who cares about the future of education:  grand challenges, particularly around issues that matter, provide powerful contexts for hands-on student learning, collaboration and engagement. Competitions don’t just unlock economic leverage around a problem, they unlock passion for problem solving – and that’s schools’ real job.

There are roughly 25,000 public high schools in the United States today. What would public education look like if they all had some variant of an EVX team? In other words, not an XPrize for Education, but rather an XPrize as Education.

Watch the talk below to learn more about West Philly High’s Hybrid EVX Team. And congratulations to Brandon, Azeem, Simon and the whole EVX Team for this well-deserved recognition. 

Want to go deeper? Watch the remarkable learning innovator Dennis Littky, of Big Picture Learning, talk about how he applies some of the same principals to help students find their passions.

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