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Ray of Hope: Matt Tenzer's solar-powered scooter offers a cheap, nonpolluting alternative for getting around town.


Running on Daylight

Matt Tenzer of Capitola lifts the solar panel on the back of the scooter, pointing out the place where a pizza box could easily fit. Before Tenzer got hold of it, this was just a regular old electric City Bug scooter. But after wiring a 17-by-22-inch, 24-volt solar panel directly into the battery pack, Tenzer had created the ultimate environmentally sound mode of transportation.

"Basically, all I've done is make a better mousetrap," says the 47-year-old Tenzer, who is in the process of getting a patent for his innovative solar scooter design. "This way it's like having your own little gas station with you at all times."

Except, instead of relying on a polluting, limited resource, the solar scooter runs on sunlight. The panels convert one hour of solar exposure into about one mile of drive time. When fully charged, the battery can last for 15 miles, though Tenzer recommends recharging every five.

The solar panels were originally intended as solar options for electric lawnmowers, but when Tenzer saw them, he had a better idea. "You've got to think big," says Tenzer, who is also developing a water rocket with a single-cylinder plastic motor.

Another one of his inventions, the ingenious Wunder Bar, is a long, lightweight bar made out of galvanized steel and aluminum that connects to a video camera, acting as a stabilizer and allowing for easier maneuvering. Tenzer intends to patent it as well.

The solar scooter comes equipped with relatively comfortable seats and can do about 15 miles per hour on the open road. Tenzer has added what he calls "common-sense features" to these little wonders, like a volt-meter gauge, rearview mirrors and orange flags.

"You can buy one of these flags from the manufacturer for $17.99, but I put these together for about 75 cents," he explains.

The scooters can be folded up and stored easily and are perfect for

running errands around town. They sell for $1,000.

When he isn't building better mousetraps, Tenzer, who used to run a chimney-sweeping business, works in television production and as a freelance videographer. For more information about solar scooters, call 465.1312.

Evaluate This

Although the UCSC Academic Senate has voted for mandatory grades, the noose isn't around the neck of narrative evaluations yet.

"I think we're moving toward keeping narrative evaluations central, while including summary grades," says Barbara Rogoff, psychology professor and member of the Academic Senate, which will hold a special meeting on the future of narrative evaluations on Nov. 27.

Narrative evaluations give an appraisal of a student's progress that is more comprehensive than a letter grade. "They provide for a culture based on learning, not evaluation," says Manuel Schwab, a senior who studies politics and literature. "Rather than coming to school for a transcript and a GPA that will do things for us once we're out of school, we primarily think about the education we're getting."

The results of the Senate's mail vote this October reaffirmed an earlier vote calling for mandatory grades in addition to the evaluations, by a vote of 240 to 154. Current undergraduates may continue to receive narrative evaluations, but students entering in fall 2001 may only opt for them in no more than 25 percent of all the course work that they apply toward graduation.

"There is a kind of dishonesty about the whole discussion," says Conn Hallinan, a journalism professor. "The real story is that this is a workload issue. The administration has [expanded the university] without creating the infrastructure to deal with larger classes."

Hallinan, who also teaches at Berkeley, where he says he "needs a cattle prod to get students to talk in class," fears that with mandatory grades, narrative evaluations will become "templates prewritten to go alongside a certain letter grade."

"I think what has happened is the university has brought a lot of faculty members here in the last few years that have no commitment to the alternative vision that founded this institution," says Mike Rotkin, Santa Cruz City Councilmember and social studies professor.

Many believe that the new grade legislation will also attract a different kind of student to UCSC. And maybe that's what UCSC wants. Once known as a countercultural mecca, UCSC has been revamping its image by building partnerships with high-tech companies and NASA.

Detractors of the evaluations claim that they prevent students from getting into graduate school, although professors like Rotkin and Hallinan claim that the opposite is true.

Many supportors of evaluations contend that grades create an atmosphere of unhealthy competition in which brownnosers thrive but true learning does not.

UCSC is one of 11 schools--including Reed and Oberlin--in the country to use narrative evaluations. When grades became optional at UCSC in 1997, only a small minority of students asked for them. According to Schwab, it is clear from last year's poll that students want to keep the evaluations. Along with faculty members, a group called Students for Evaluation Reform will be contributing statements to the Senate chair for review at the Nov. 27 meeting.

"There has been an amazingly sustained student movement since last fall when the whole thing started," Schwab says. According to Schwab, the Senate has disregarded its own mission statement by not allowing student voices to be heard. "It invites the question of what kind of representation are students entitled to and whether that entitlement is being honored appropriately."

Ben Lomond Miracle

Mountain Community Theater, the oldest year-round theater group in the county, is finally reaping the fruits of its labors. The fruit is actually a $47,000 grant from the Lucille and David Packard Foundation. Since receiving the grant in March, the Ben Lomond-based MCT has finally been able to revamp the lighting and sound equipment at Park Hall, where most of its shows are performed.

Using royalties from its popular adaptation of A Miracle on 34th Street, MCT has also set up a performing-arts scholarship for San Lorenzo Valley High School students.

"We're really committed to education," says Peter Troxell, MCT co-founder and general manager of KUSP radio. "MCT's yearly youth programs are a tremendous resource for young people with talent in this area."

Founded in 1982, MCT is now going into its 19th season and has more than 86 productions (1,000 performances) under its belt.

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From the November 15-22, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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