Webb Senior Designs, Builds and Tests Go-Kart
Taking a prototype of a go-kart from the drawing board to an actual vehicle zooming around The Webb Schools’ track wasn’t easy, but that’s the kind of challenge that drives Victor Zhang ’22.
“I’ve always been interested in cars and some of my earliest memories are of my mom encouraging my passion for them,” said Zhang, a Webb senior. “With this go-kart, I was able to record a top speed of 35 mph on the straightaway on the track. It was really fun, but also intense, going that fast so low to the ground on a vehicle I built.”
Webb teachers urge students to follow their interests and connect learning to hands-on challenges and real-world situations. The academic strategy is known as “The Alf Method,” named for iconic science teacher Ray Alf, who led fossil-hunting trips with students that formed the basis of Webb’s one-of-a-kind Alf Museum.
“The cornerstone of Webb’s curriculum is the Alf Method, which allows for meaningful work to emerge and lift up the idea that we are all creative individuals,” said Brian Kays, a Webb science teacher and expert in the use of makerspaces who has mentored Zhang.
Webb recently received a pledge of $100 million from an alumnus in recognition of the power of its program that emphasizes learning by doing.
Zhang’s project began with sketches and rudimentary designs at his home in Beijing during the quarantine of 2020-21. Over the summer, Webb helped Zhang – who wants to become a mechanical engineer and work on race cars – secure an internship with a Southern California auto dealer (and Webb alumnus). He spent six weeks shadowing and assisting mechanics as they repaired vehicles.
When students returned to campus for the 2021-22 school year, Zhang was excited to bring his kit and designs to Webb’s machine workshop, where he worked on it each week during an academic period set aside for experiential learning.
Building the go-kart was not without its ups and downs. Some parts designed and built on a 3D printer could not withstand the tensions created when the vehicle was first put to the test. So, Zhang reconfigured, changed materials, rebuilt and tested the kart again.
“I’m really fortunate to have the support of Webb and of my teacher, Mr. Kays, for the opportunity to build this go-kart,” Zhang said.
Zhang’s next big move? After taking a victory lap around Webb’s academic buildings in front of his friends and fellow classmates on November 17, Zhang said he has several ideas for modifying the kart design – better front wheels, a more stable seat, engine changes to boost speed.
“I’m excited Victor found a place like Webb that not only allows dreams and passions to exist, but also supports the emergence of practical skills within its students,” Kays said.
In March 2022, Webb will embark on its biennium signature program of Unbounded Days, which sends students across California for three- to five-day explorations of issues that range from the cultural to the environment. This year, Kays will lead a science and engineering course on building go-karts inspired by Zhang’s passion.