Above, STEAM Legacy High Principal Carla Barrera-Ortiz and engineering and design teacher Mario Ibarra join their winning team at the H2AC World Championships in Chemnitz, Germany.

STEAM Legacy High students prepare their vehicles for the H2AC endurance race.

Oh, what a feeling to leave campus as aspiring automotive engineers and to return as world champions.

Just ask the students at STEAM Legacy High School, who took first place in automotive design and fuel efficiency at this month’s H2AC World Competition. Led by Principal Carla Barrera-Ortiz and teacher Mario Ibarra, the kids from the South Gate campus bested 11 other teams from the U.S. and Europe in a six-hour endurance race of the hydrogen-fueled vehicles they designed.

“It felt surreal,” Barrera-Ortiz said. “It validated our programs and our success and everything we’ve working toward at STEAM High School.”

H2AC – the Hydrogen Horizons Automotive Challenge – encourages students to tackle the global problem of climate change by using science, technology, engineering and math to explore renewable energy solutions. The competition is sponsored by Horizon Educational, which provides schools with resources to teach environmentally efficient engineering and design.

The competition in Chemnitz, Germany capped a whirlwind six-day trip for the students, some of whom had never before been on an airplane. They got a glimpse of the digital future during a tour of the Chemnitz Institute of Technology. The kids also traveled to the Czech Republic, where they toured the historic city of Prague and visited the Skoda Automotive Academy.

STEAM Legacy students are learning to integrate automotive engineering and alternative-fuel technology.

Barrera-Ortiz is working to establish a partnership between STEAM High and the Skoda Academy as a way to support the school’s integration of automotive engineering and alternative-fuel technology. The school is already expanding its course offerings this fall to include college-level automotive certifications, but the principal has even higher aspirations for her students.

“Germany and the Czech Republic have created a school-to-industry pipeline, and the visit really piqued our interest about the opportunities for our school,” she said. “I want to immerse myself so we can reconfigure and redesign our curriculum to create a skilled workforce for the future.”

Along with programs for engineering, construction and architecture students, STEAM Legacy also offers a variety of Advanced Placement and honors courses and concurrent enrollment with East Los Angeles College. As a result, Barrera-Ortiz says the school will be near capacity next fall, with 625 students.

“When people talk about equity and strengthening the global economy through engineering and design, they look to California for leadership,” she said. “We are preparing our students to be those leaders. We like to say, ‘We’re going full STEAM ahead!'”

Principal Carla Barrera-Ortiz and engineering and design teacher Mario Ibarra coached and mentored the H2AC team. Members are Giovanni Castellanos, Gilbert Duran, Alan Gallardo, Jeremy Gomez, Luis Gomez, Miguel Guzman, Jennifer Hernandez, Miriam Ibarra, Nidia Ibarra, Enrique Lerma, Christopher Martinez, Egar Olivar, Anthony Triana and Joshua Vasquez.