UBC Solar’s Approach for the Fall 2020

With the transition to online classes and working remotely we caught up with UBC Solar, a student run design team at UBC, to ask them how they shifted their operations to work remotely and their plans for the upcoming year. We sat down with Alex Ezzat the Co-Captain of UBC Solar and a fifth-year student studying Engineering Physics to ask him how his team is continuing to make progress and some of the challenges they faced with the transition to the online environment.

UBC Solar is a student design team that designs, builds, and races solar-powered cars. The UBC design teams are student run where students work collaboratively to design projects and gain hands on experience. Design teams are a great way to meet other students in Applied Science in different programs and year levels. UBC Solar creates solar cars to demonstrate the power of solar technology while exploring and educating about the importance and feasibility of renewable automotive solutions. 

UBC Solar has roughly 50 members from all faculties who all have an important role on the team. They compete in the American Solar Challenge, a 2500km race across North America, competing against teams from all across North America. Over the course of a week, the teams’ race across public roads and highways while driving on nothing but the power of the sun using the car they built throughout the year. For more information, we can be contacted via email at manager@ubcsolar.com or on social media, @ubcsolar.

What was the biggest challenge you faced when transitioning to remote work? 

When we first moved online in March, we had to reshape the way we approached teamwork. The first few weeks were challenging and somewhat disorganized as it was a busy and stressful time of the year for everyone and working remotely was a new concept, no one was prepared for. Not having the “face-to-face” aspect we were so used to dropped moral as we felt disconnected from our teammates. We turned to Discord as our new format for online meetings, acting as a new haven where members could freely hop from one voice channel to the next to maintain contact with their friends across the team’s various working groups.

What was your experience like working remotely this summer?

While the transition to the online format was slow and bumpy, we have been able to turn the situation around quite well. Having more time online has given us the opportunity to focus on new and innovative design projects we did not have the resources to pursue before. We found that online meetings have advantages specifically, when it came to knowledge transfer and versatility. We have been able to host more tutorials and design reviews to keep members engaged and help them learn new techniques they might not have had the chance to learn.  

How is your team adapting for the fall?

We are still figuring out specific plans for the fall as there are still a lot of unknowns. We are roughly 2/3 of the way through the design of our newest solar car, planned for 2022. Due to the current situation we anticipate the majority of our work will remain as virtual design tasks, with limited in-person access to our workspace. We are still hopeful to race next summer, so any available hands-on time will be put towards finishing up our current solar car. As with every year, we will continue to provide new recruits with fun and educational introductory projects to get them all caught up to speed as we anticipate the re-opening of our workspace.

How will recruitment be done this year?

Our recruitment will be online this year and be formatted to accommodate applicants across varying locations and time zones. The process will start with an online web form where applicants can express interest regarding joining our team and will provide us with a bit about themselves and why they want to join. Selected applicants will be invited for an online interview with some of our team leads to evaluate their work style and community fit. No technical experience required!

How and when do you run your virtual meetings?

Virtual meetings are held every Saturday from 10am to around 5pm PST in the fall. During these meetings we start with some announcements and then jump into working with our respective groups. Each sub-team will also have a meeting throughout the week. The time of the meeting will be set to accommodate everyone in the group, regardless of what time zone you are in. As not all members will be able to attend due to different time zones, meeting notes will be posted online after each meeting.

How will you be moving forward with competitions you take part in?

It will all depend on the current situation. We hope to be able to compete in the 2021 American Solar Challenge next summer. We are hopeful that we will be able to finish the car in the January term to get it ready for the race in July. After the competition we are looking to start our new car. 

Anything you would like to share with students interested in joining UBC Solar?

As a young engineering student, the design team experience is incomparable and can be the most rewarding part of your educational career. It gives students hands on experience working on engineering projects in fields they are interested in. If you are interested in sustainability and learning about smart design, innovative thinking, and workplace professionalism, be sure to check us out! Though the online setting is unfortunate, we still encourage new students to apply to a design team, even if it is not UBC Solar.