• Schuyler Colquitt

VW eLab Spotlight: The Howard School

Green-powered cars, design renovations for the local city annex, trophies, and t-shirts are just a few of the many creative projects that students have been working hard on in The Howard School’s VW eLab.

Howard's VW eLab specialist, Japho Hardin, reviewing current & upcoming assignments with his students.

Howard’s VW eLab specialist, Japho Hardin, has a background in architecture + engineering and has been their VW eLab specialist for two years now. His second block students, which are comprised of their school’s Real-World Scholars group, have been creating t-shirts and selling them to students and community members. This student-run business platform, known as Howard Inc., creates their products in the VW eLab.

Examples of the Vex Robotics Competition awards created in the Howard VW eLab

Hardin said the class is starting to get into making awards, as well. At a recent Vex Robotics Competition, they needed trophies to present to winners this year. This project gave students the opportunity to create a variety of different designs, which were architecture engineering based. During the project’s phases, students had to design a prototype, ensure it functioned properly, and find out what, if anything, they would have done differently. “This project helps with their critical thinking skills, especially with robotics,” explained Hardin. They are thinking about what the manufacturer doesn’t make, and they make that. “It teaches the students persistence,” shared Hardin. “Students learn how to start a project and see it through to completion.”



Sketch by Kiana Bibbs for OZcar Design Competition

Kiana Bibbs, junior at Howard, is in her third semester in the VW eLab. “I like the class because it’s more hands-on, and it’s not just book work,” said Bibbs. “We spend time outside of the classroom, too. We’re in the VW eLab working on different things, and Mr. Hardin tries to contribute to different assignments.” Currently, Bibbs said the class is working on trying to transform their school’s former kitchen area into a culinary classroom. Bibbs enjoys creating t-shirts, and says they plan to start designing jackets in the future. Her favorite machine she’s learned how to use is the 3D printer, which she’s used to create cup holders. When asked how the VW eLab will benefit Bibbs in the future, she shared, “When I go to college, I want to be a civil engineer, and this class will help prepare me for that. I really like the class – that’s why I continued to stay in it.” During the school visit, Bibbs was working on her sketches for the OZcar Design Competition. For the competition, students must use their skills + tools in the VW eLab to design a plaque or trophy for the Opportunity Zone to award outstanding teachers in the twelve schools. The winning student will receive an invitation to the OZcars Awards Ceremony on May 10th and special recognition on stage.


Other students shared their experiences in the classroom, as well. Senior, Larry Velasquez, is in his first year in the VW eLab. The hands-on experience with the machines, learning how to create a variety of designs on the computer, and formulating solutions to projects are all aspects of the VW eLab environment that Velasquez enjoys. One of his favorite projects he’s worked on thus far was a concept for the Chattanooga City Annex. Velasquez explained the project scope, sharing, “We had to come up with a design of what we wanted to do with the building and come up with ideas of what we wanted to do with certain floors.” This gave students the opportunity to formulate a design plan from scratch of what they would want to add to each floor to make it more engaging for community members. Velasquez also plans to take the engineering route after graduation and share his experience in the VW eLab. “It is better than being in the classroom,” said Velasquez. “We’re able to come in here and walk around working on different things. I like the switch up of projects – it makes it not monotonous.”


Richard Williams pictured with his design concept.

Although junior, Richard Williams, has been in the VW eLab one year, he’s been in Hardin’s class since he started as a freshman. Williams also enjoys the engineering design elements he’s getting to learn. When asked about his experience in the VW eLab, Williams shared, “I think it’s been great because we’re not sitting inside the classroom all day. We get to work on something new and have fun with other students while building teamwork.” Like Velasquez, the city annex renovation concept was also a favorite for Williams. He shared that he and his classmates came up with their own designs for each floor and worked together in groups. “We all got to work together by communicating and putting in our own opinions on our designs,” said Williams. Some of the amenities that Williams designed for the roof of the building included an outdoor pool, garden, movie theater, and sauna/spa (pictured above). This project took around two weeks to complete. “The VW eLab helps me learn to design my own models, so if I wanted to design my own car, I can sketch out my own ideas and build a prototype," shared Williams. "This is a fun class – one of the best ones in my opinion. Being in the VW eLab will actually help you focus on what your goals are and help you better communicate with others.

Green powered car Howard students assembled in their VW eLab


Hayle Mack, senior at Howard, shared how the VW eLab has impacted her learning. “We get to be more hands-on, and I really like that part of it - it’s really fun,” said Mack. “The tools are pretty simple once you get the hang of it. At first, I didn't think I'd be able to do it, but it became easier as time went on. We learn more than how to use the tools that are in here, though. We learn about teamwork, and it helps you learn patience and how everything works and connects.” Mack’s favorite project has been the car their class constructed (pictured above). The idea behind this green power project is to preserve energy by using a battery charged by solar energy. The students were sent the parts with no instructions and only one picture to adhere to. After modifications and trial runs, they successfully completed the build in two months. “It’s been my favorite project because we were able to drive it and race it in our competition,” shared Mack.

Nick Brown & Hayle Mack transferring their design sketches to the computer for the OZcar project


Nick Brown, also a senior at Howard, has enjoyed all the projects he’s created and found it difficult choosing just one. “The VW eLab opened my mind to a lot of things,” said Brown. “This is my dream job--to do what Mr. Hardin does.” Brown aspires to go to school for architecture + engineering. “I learn something new every time I come in here. It’s been fun, and when it comes down to it, Mr. Hardin’s the person you can call on if you need help, and he’s easy to work with. You just have to be here and see for yourself, because we do everything.” Brown offers great advice – witnessing for yourself what students are working on in their VW eLab is an eye-opening experience definitely worth seeking out!


Want a chance to purchase items for sale by Howard students? You can find Howard’s VW eLab student-run business, Howard Inc., selling their items at this month’s PEF 30th Anniversary Luncheon on Wednesday, April 10th at 11am at the Chattanooga Convention Center. There, they will have awards they've created out on display, as well as t-shirts, stickers, and custom awards/plaques for sale.

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