From Beetles to robotics, one teacher’s passion for cool machines

Troy Rivers Jr.’s obsession with air-cooled Volkswagen cars dates back to his early teens. While his classmates were saving up for newer models, Rivers was pinching his pennies to be able to purchase a bright green 1969 Baja Volkswagen Beetle. “I went and looked at it with my mom and fell in love with it,” says Rivers. “It’s a blast to drive.” He attributes his love of vintage vehicles to his father and grandfather, who enjoyed owning and fixing up classic cars. “Growing up, I just remember being in the back seat of these cool cars,” says Rivers. “I’ve kind of taken the obsession to another level.” Since then, Rivers’ Baja Beetle has become an important member of the family. It was the car Rivers drove off in after exchanging vows with his wife, Lindsay, and played a starring role in the pregnancy announcement of their son, Colt. “He is definitely going to be car crazy, just like me,” says Rivers. Troy Rivers Jr. and his beloved 1969 Baja Bettle. Disclaimer: Modifying vehicles can adversely affect warranty coverage & compliance with required safety & other standards. Over time, Rivers has added more Volkswagen vehicles to the family—his growing collection includes a 1970 Volkswagen Type 2 Bus, a 1973 Volkswagen Thing, and four more vintage Volkswagen Beetle cars. “The thing that made me go back to the VW family is that they’re a car that everybody can relate to,” says River. “It seems like everybody has a story with them.” Rivers’ automotive interest blends surprisingly well with another one of his passions: teaching. Initially on a business degree track, Rivers was inspired to switch careers and pursue teaching after seeing how much joy working with children brought his wife. “Initially, I just wanted to make a lot of money,” Rivers says. “Then, one day, something just clicked. I’ve always loved kids, so I decided to be a teacher and I never looked back.” Currently a third-grade teacher in Loganville, Ga., Rivers uses his automotive know-how to help co-host the school’s robotics club. “I kind of relate it to working on cars,” says Rivers. They “have to be good with following directions, because they have to follow very detailed directions [and] go through hundreds of different steps to build the actual robot.” This past year, ten of his students were invited to compete on the state level against middle schoolers. “It was very cool,” says Rivers. In years to come, Rivers plans to continue to share his Volkswagen fervor with his students and son. “Being able to pass on my passion of cars … [and] share that with my son is like nothing else,” Rivers says. Troy Rivers Jr. with his wife Lindsay and their son Colt. Disclaimer: Modifying vehicles can adversely affect warranty coverage & compliance with required safety & other standards.

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A bucket list Beetle: After being diagnosed at 27, a cancer patient finds and restores her dream car

Whitney Wickesberg still remembers the distinct smell of her dad’s bright orange Super Beetle Volkswagen. In her teens, she used to sneak out to her parents’ garage, lie in the backseat of the Beetle and dream of the day when she would get her shot in the driver’s seat. “I really fell in love with it,” Wickesberg says. But before she was able to earn her learner’s permit, her parents sold it. Heartbroken, she channeled her disappointment into full-on Volkswagen fandom. “I kind of became obsessed,” Whitney admits. “I had a large Volkswagen Beetle poster in my room and owned all sorts of little model cars.” Since then, owning a vintage Beetle had been at the top of Wickesberg’s bucket list. It remained a far-off dream until 2016 when she was diagnosed with lymphoma or cancer of the immune system. She was only 27 years old. At first, she thought she had a common cold, but then noted a large and unfamiliar lump in her neck. Several weeks and doctors later, it was determined that she had lymphoma, required medical attention and would need to be housebound for nearly six months as she recuperated from chemotherapy treatment. During her time indoors, she decided to track down her dream Beetle – a 1966 Volkswagen Beetle – online. She found one in Wisconsin and asked family members to travel there to assess it. After receiving their blessing, she purchased it and had it shipped to Texas. “It gave me something to look forward to and I could start envisioning my future,” Wickesberg explains. Whitney Wickesberg as a child with her dad’s original orange Super Beetle. As soon as the Beetle arrived, however, Wickesberg discovered that Barkley – her nickname for her new ride –needed some TLC. The seats needed new upholstery, the engine was faulty, and the headlights had to be replaced. She began watching Volkswagen and car repair YouTube videos and buying old official Volkswagen service manuals to learn more about car mechanics to help restore Barkley to his best state. “My husband, a self-proclaimed Volkswagen nut, offered to help me, but I really wanted to learn – and fail – on my own,” Wickesberg says. She even went as far as to order a hazmat suit on Amazon so she could safely work on the car in her off-weeks from chemotherapy. “I started off learning how to do simpler things, like oil changes, and then graduated to interior work,” Wickesberg says. “I was having the time of my life looking at, and learning about, all its components.” “A lot of people say, ‘I could never learn that [or] I could never do that,’ but it just goes to show that if you want to learn something bad enough, you can,” Wickesberg added. “It may not be easy at first … but in the end, I can promise you, it is so rewarding.” Whitney Wickesberg works on Barkley the Beetle during her chemotherapy treatment. With determination and hard work, she was slowly able to transform Barkley into the Beetle she had imagined, her dream ride. “It sounds crazy, but even though I had on this ridiculous hazmat suit, in that moment I felt completely normal, like I wasn’t going through cancer,” Wickesberg noted. “I only had the future to look forward to.” On the day she found out she was cancer-free, Wickesberg also received a positive Volkswagen omen. While on the way to her one year-and-a-half check-up at her oncologist’s office, she spotted a Bahama blue 1966 VW Beetle. “I looked over to my mom and said, ‘This is a sign. I know it’s going to be okay,’” says Wickesberg. She was right. Years later, she is still cancer-free, loving life and planning future adventures for her and Barkley. “Driving [him] for me is one of the best feelings in the world,” Wickesberg, now 30, says ecstatically. “Even though he doesn’t go very fast, and sometimes he’s fussy, he has a new lease on life – like I do – and that makes me so happy.” Barkley the Beetle. Disclaimer: Modifying vehicles can adversely affect warranty coverage & compliance with required safety & other standards.

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Watch the Volkswagen ID. R take on its latest speed challenge – a racing drone

Concept vehicle shown. Not available for sale. Specifications may change. From Pikes Peak to the Nürburgring and Goodwood, Volkswagen’s electric ID. R race car has set records around the world, showing how electric power can transform vehicle performance. Its latest challenge isn’t a famous track, but another type of breakthrough technology – a racing drone. Launched earlier this decade, drone racing now sports thousands of players worldwide and several professional leagues. All feature tiny, remote-controlled aircraft capable of reaching speeds of 85 mph or more through wild obstacle courses. For this video, a racing drone took on the ID. R through a twisty course set up inside a Volkswagen factory. Take a look at what happens when two pieces of the future come together.    

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Reviving auto shop classes for the EV era, one old Volkswagen at a time

The class converted a gasoline-powered 1990 Volkswagen Cabriolet to electric power. Disclaimer: Modifying vehicles can adversely affect warranty coverage and compliance with required safety and other standards. When Ron Grosinger began teaching shop class in 2005 at Memorial High School in West New York, N.J., the program was struggling to survive. In a school facing many challenges, the elective course had dwindled from six teachers to two and rarely offered any hands-on learning, Grosinger says. As in many schools across the country, the shop program was on the path to being eliminated. Between the extra cost of running capital-intensive classes and a growing focus on college preparation, enrollment in vocational classes has dwindled from prior decades – even with a growing economic need for future mechanics. To keep the class afloat, Grosinger knew he’d have to get creative to stay relevant. “If you’re teaching students about gasoline cars, that’s basically the equivalent of 8-track players,” says Grosinger. So, in 2008, he approached the school’s administrators with an innovative idea: he would teach his 27 students, step-by-step, how to convert a gasoline-driven car to electric power. “With the electric car, I wanted to prove two things,” says Grosinger. “First, [I wanted to prove] that we could convert it. Everyone was telling me at the time that it was impossible when really, we just didn’t have the option yet [on a large scale]. “Second, and most important, I wanted to prove that kids are super capable. You just have to give them a chance.” Ron Grosinger and one of his students, Isamara Lozano, pose in front of electric-powered 1990 Volkswagen Cabriolet. Disclaimer: Modifying vehicles can adversely affect warranty coverage and compliance with required safety and other standards. He had recently taken an intensive, two-week EV conversion course in San Diego and believed the new program would help teach students applied science and engineering principles through automotive applications. With backing from the school, he was able to purchase his first conversion vehicle: a 1990 Volkswagen Cabriolet. Grosinger knew it would serve as the perfect base for this specific build. “Volkswagen vehicles are known for their German engineering and affordability. They’re built with no-nonsense and the parts are readily available,” Grosinger says. “They’re also relatively lightweight, which is great for electric conversion and helps keep the battery costs down for the class. … All the money you put into them is worth it.” Over time, the students learned how to produce the various mechanical parts in cardboard, then wood, then steel. They welded parts, tackled wiring and learned to solve problems as they arose. “We completely gutted the car and put it all back together,” says Grosinger. Ron Grosinger poses with the electric-powered 1990 Volkswagen Cabriolet. Disclaimer: Modifying vehicles can adversely affect warranty coverage and compliance with required safety and other standards. Within a year, he noticed the student makeup of the class had expanded to advanced math, science, physics and engineering students. Also, there were many more female students. “The girls in my classes are amazing engineers,” says Grosinger. “Through hands-on learning, I hope they are encouraged to maintain and broaden their interest in STEM careers.” His goal is to get the male to female ratio up to 50-50. Every year since his first year of teaching, Grosinger has upped the ante and challenged his class to take on new projects. In the decade since the program was revamped, enrollment has dramatically increased. The department has now expanded to four teachers and the school added an after-school automotive program. “Teachers should encourage students to explore new and more efficient ways to move a person from point A to point B, whether that system is a train with solar panels on it, a car with an electric motor in it or retrofitting an existing technology with a different energy source,” says Grosinger. “And don’t come up with the solutions for the students.” The various automotive build projects have also led to the award of additional grant money that has helped pay for new and improved equipment. Most importantly, several of Grosinger’s students have gone on to work in the automotive field. Grosinger attributes the popularity and growth of these courses to the promotion of STEM subjects and the infusion of high-tech equipment, like 3D printers, in the programs. “It’s all about giving students options,” he says. Lozano, above, hard at work in Grosinger’s EV conversion course.

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Flint brings back its historic Soap Box Derby, with a little push from Volkswagen Group of America

As the cradle of the American automobile industry, Flint, Mich., has always been a playground for four-wheeled innovation. In the boom times of 1936, the town held its first Soap Box Derby for children and adults to home-build their own gravity-powered racers. Thousands of fans and even the occasional national political leader would attend the events, which were held until 1995. Since then, a lack of resources has kept the event on hiatus – until this summer, when Volkswagen Group of America helped bring Flint’s Soap Box Derby back to life, with a dozen cars running for glory in early June. Shane Schmitt, an employee of Volkswagen Group of America (VWGoA) in Auburn Hills, Mich., saw a chance for the company to not just sponsor a race, but promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education while reviving a fun tradition for Flint. “Audi and Volkswagen’s involvement in this unique race was an exciting opportunity,” said Schmitt. “The race, and what it sought to teach the kids, aligned with our core beliefs as a company. Our involvement was much appreciated by the organizers of the event, and it was a wonderful chance to reach out to the community of Flint.” If you’ve never seen a soap box race, the whole idea of putting a “soap box” on wheels can be a bit misleading. Like real race cars, soap-box cars must be built to a set of rules for weight and design. Even though they’re only powered by gravity, they can reach 30 mph on typical-length tracks. Volkswagen Group of America was a “Super Stock” level sponsor of the race, which funded the purchase of two derby cars as well as the transportation of the winning car and driver to the All-American Soap Box Derby World Championships in Akron, Ohio. Thanks to the sponsorship, local middle school students in Flint were able to participate in every aspect of the vehicle assembly process. Students had the opportunity to collaboratively build the derby cars, learn about vehicle assembly in a hands-on environment, work through pre-race inspections, and participate in the race as either a driver or pit crew member. To help the students with the build process, employees from Audi quality tech service and Volkswagen sales and marketing came together to work on the design of the derby cars and the vehicle’s display decals. Other VWGoA employees volunteered at pre-race build workshops. After building was complete, two cars were entered in the Flint Soap Box Derby—one branded Volkswagen, and one branded Audi. The Volkswagen vehicle took home second place and Audi placed eighth. All told, 38 kids took part in the derby experience, and the winning car went on to compete at the national level in mid-July, bringing a bit of automotive history back to Flint.  

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How one teacher funded over 100 classroom projects through DonorsChoose.org

Allyson Maiolo poses with her Volkswagen Golf GTI. Allyson Maiolo, an elementary school teacher for more than 20 years, has raised more than $40,000 for her students on DonorsChoose.org. Since discovering the site in 2007, Maiolo has had more than 110 classroom projects fully funded – mostly through anonymous donations – thanks to the crowdfunding platform. “It only takes five minutes to create your account and less than 20 minutes to build your page,” says Maiolo, who currently teaches third grade in North Port, Fla. “Everyone can spare [that time] to get something amazing for their classroom that will greatly benefit their students’ lives.” Her first fully funded project was a collection of whisper phones and lower-level reading books to help students struggling with reading comprehension build their reading skills and confidence. “From there, I got on a roll,” Maiolo says. Since then, she has raised thousands of dollars to help buy basic classroom needs, such as pencils and books, to technology, sports equipment and furniture. That’s what’s special about DonorsChoose.org – teachers can tailor the projects to their schools and students’ top needs. “At my previous school, it was very high needs and had very few resources. I did a lot of fundraisers for furniture we didn’t have that helped my classroom feel homier,” Maiolo explains. “It really makes a difference when you have things that are new and nice, and the kids see that learning is valued.” Volkswagen agrees that education should be cherished and is donating a total of $1 million to DonorsChoose.org to help teachers by funding classroom projects across America. Volkswagen dealers will receive DonorsChoose.org donation cards pre-loaded with funds from Volkswagen that they can share with customers during the “Drive Bigger” Summer Event. Volkswagen is donating a total of $1 million to DonorsChoose.org. Maiolo, a volunteer teacher ambassador for DonorsChoose.org who drives a Volkswagen GTI and Tiguan, has encouraged several teachers on her campus to develop their own pages and helped jumpstart several new school-wide programs, including a program that provides positive male role models for at-risk fifth-grade boys. Through the DonorsChoose.org platform, the school was able to buy the male students dress shirts and ties. “They would wear the outfits on the days they had meetings,” says Maiolo. The program was so popular and successful that the school plans to expand it to additional students this upcoming year. With the first day of school on the horizon, there’s no time like the present to create a classroom project. Here are Maiolo’s top 10 tips for getting your classroom project funded. Do your research. Poke around DonorsChoose.org and look at other projects that have been successfully funded by users. Get a feel for what others are doing and tailor your project accordingly. Start simple and small. Maiolo recommends keeping project costs low, especially early on. “I usually recommend keeping projects between $200-$300,” Maiolo says. “If you start small, your projects will fund a lot easier.” Create a catchy title. “Anything that draws people to your project is good,” says Maiolo. If you can come up with a play on words, or a catchy title, that’s best. Also, be as descriptive as possible. Instead of writing “tablets needed,” write “tablets needed for hands-on, STEM-based learning and activities.” Let your students shine. The project description is a great avenue for teachers to demonstrate how much they enjoy their job, students and classroom. “Describe what the demographics are like at your school, as far as free and reduced lunch levels, but also how your students have overcome difficult challenges and circumstances,” she says. “Make sure to demonstrate how these items can best benefit your students’ lives in the long-run.” Be strategic with your categories. Be sure to pick two categories that best apply to your specific project to help drive traffic to your page. Don’t feel limited. As noted above, Maiolo has requested a variety of classroom enhancements, ranging from basic school resources to technology and furniture. Teachers can also repeat projects every school year. “I always write a snack project at the beginning of the year so every day every child in my class gets a snack, no matter if they brought one from home or not,” Maiolo explains. Think beyond your community. “For the most part, my projects have been funded by strangers and random people on the internet,” Maiolo says. “You want to make sure your project is written in a way that’s going to speak to any donor who finds your page.” Be patient. Remember, you have four months to get your project funded, so don’t worry if the response isn’t immediate. “You can’t expect your project to be funded overnight,” says Maiolo. Research match offers. Your project may qualify for a match offer or funding, so make sure to scope out any offers currently available and tailor your project to their criteria. “At least half of my projects, if not more, have qualified for match offers,” says Maiolo. “It’s a great and easy way to get funding for your project.” Send thank-you notes. “Every time someone donates – even if it’s only a $1 donation – you have an opportunity to say thank you and it’s really important to do that,” says Maiolo. She always suggests taking photos of your students using the items you requested. “You want to make sure that you’re demonstrating the impact of those items so the donors understand the difference they have made and will be encouraged to donate in the future,” says Maiolo. Public school teachers across America call on DonorsChoose.org to help supply their classrooms.    

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Cribs, highchairs and more: Why the Volkswagen Atlas is the best car for this mompreneur

Alex Calicchio and her daughter sit in Calicchio’s Deep Black Pearl Atlas. Traveling with a baby or toddler is no easy task. Beyond naps, feedings and diaper changes, parents are often forced to lug loads bulky child equipment, like car seats and cribs, to faraway places. Enter Alex Calicchio, an entrepreneur in the Palm Beach, Fla., area who uses her Volkswagen Atlas to deliver essential baby gear to vacationers in need. Here’s the concept:  Visitors reserve the desired equipment on rental site BabyQuip.com. When it’s time for their trip, Calicchio, a company representative, delivers the goods and sets everything up. Calicchio appreciates the flexibility her part-time gig offers, and attributes part of her success to one important component—her Atlas. She even refers to her car as her “sidekick.” Cargo space was crucial when Calicchio was selecting a new car for her entrepreneurial venture—she needed to be able to easily transport full-size cribs, highchairs and strollers 1. Other priorities included sleek design, a comfortable interior and, most importantly, peace-of-mind. Both her husband and stepdaughter drive Volkswagen vehicles, so Calicchio’s husband suggested checking out the Atlas. Without even test driving the SUV, Calicchio took one look at the Deep Black Pearl Atlas and returned the next day to drive it off the lot. “I am truly amazed at the amount of things I can fit in this car,” said Calicchio. “I can pack the car full of equipment and still have room to fit my kids” she jokes. Alex Calicchio and her daughter pose with their pups in front of Calicchio’s Deep Black Pearl. In fact, Calicchio can pack her Atlas with items placed for order – as well as a  car seat in the second-row captain’s chair for her youngest daughter23. “Not only does the Atlas let me do my job every day, but it also allows me time to spend with my four-year-old daughter,” Calcchio says. “When I make deliveries, my daughter comes along on what we call road trips.” When not using her Atlas for work, Calicchio’s favorite part of the 2018 2.0T SEL vehicle is the panoramic sunroof. She and her daughter enjoy evening stargazing when the weather is nice. “The Atlas helps me in my business, but it really is a family car,” she says.   Volkswagen of America (“VWoA”) is not affiliated with BabyQuip.com and this story should not be viewed as an endorsement by VWoA of the safety and quality of the products or services provided by Alex’s business.

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