Students from Hillsborough County middle and elementary schools participated in the EnergyWhiz Expo at McLane Middle School in Brandon last month using their STEM knowledge to race cars and cook food with the power of the sun.

Students from all over Hillsborough County showed off their science and engineering skills with help from the sun last month at the annual EnergyWhiz Expo held at McLane Middle School in Brandon.

The event, open to students in fourth to eighth grade, was made up of two events, the Junior Solar Sprint Race and the Solar Cook Off.

The Solar Sprint judged cars, created by students and powered by the sun, on design, innovation and performance in a 20-meter, wire-guided sprint race. The cook-off was a two part contest where students designed a functional solar cooker and created a dish in it.

“The event is a great way to highlight solar energy and its many uses,” said Mike Wilson, McLane’s robotics engineering technology teacher who runs the event. “We host this every year to get students excited about engineering and interested in STEM-based careers. Students who participate are able to design, build and test devices that get energy or hear from the sun.”

The winners from the events earned free registration at the Florida Solar Energy Center’s EnergyWhiz Expo next month in Cocoa, Florida.

G’kosi Boyce, a seventh grade student from McLane Middle School, won first place in the middle school Junior Solar Sprint competition and Shelby Bain, a fifth grade student from Lithia Springs Elementary in Valrico, won first place in the elementary division. Jelni Robinson and Iliana Canon from McLane Middle School also earned a spot at the state expo with their unique front wheel drive solar car.

“I have a lot of fun building and fixing stuff and learning the mechanics of it all,” said Canon.

The Jalapeño team from Chiles Elementary School won first place in the cook-off with a Mexican inspired meal of taco seasoned ground beef and homemade guacamole. According to Wilson, the cook-off event was developed to provide a real world solar thermal challenge for the students. Each team prepared their dish, discussed their cooker with the judges and answered questions from attendees.

McLane is one of four schools in Hillsborough County with a STEM academy offering students an opportunity to learn advanced programming and engineering.

For more information on McLane Middle School, call 744-8100. Visit for more information on the Solar Energy Center.

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Kate Quesada
Assignment Editor Kate Quesada started working at the Osprey Observer in 2004 after graduating from the University of South Florida with a masters degree in Mass Communications. Since then, she has held various positions at the paper and has been working as the assignment editor since January 2020. She lives in Lithia with her husband Mike and sons Dylan and Max and stays active in the community on school PTA boards and volunteering with local organizations.