While other kids were playing basketball in their driveways and chalking up the road to play hopscotch, Corey Nickels was riding up and down the street with a trash grabber and a kitchen garbage can mounted on the back of his bicycle.
Nickels, an 18-year-old electrical engineering sophomore, spent his childhood repairing and donating his neighbors’ bikes, stereos and microwaves left at the curb for trash pickup.
“I’ve taken so much stuff apart that I know how it works without actually knowing how it works,” he said.
Nickels cares about the environment and uses his skills to reduce others’ carbon footprint. During the spring, he was one of two Inter-Residence Hall Association Eco-Representatives for the Honors Residential College at Hume Hall.
He helped brainstorm ideas to reduce the environmental impact of each dorm.
“It’s fun because from the first meeting, I realized there are other people at this school that really care about this,” Nickels said.
That wasn’t the first time he shared his passion with others.
In 2009, the Palm Harbor native inspired his neighbor, the Rev. Gene Watson, to expand a toy donation organization to include repairing and donating old bicycles.
Together, Nickels and Watson, 72, created the Toymakers of East Lake Bicycle Ministry. In 2010, the ministry fixed and donated more than 300 bikes in Tampa Bay, some of which were sent to Haiti after the January earthquake.
“It was Corey and myself,” Watson said. “I started in my garage at the same time Corey was picking up bikes at the side of the road.”
Watson said there are often too many bikes and not enough volunteers to repair them, especially after Nickels left for college.
“Corey is a very resourceful person,” Watson said. “He did a lot of things that could be recycled and among them there were bicycles.”
His environmental interests were not limited to bicycles.
As a freshman in high school, Nickels began attending Pasco County School Board’s Energy Management Committee meetings to find out how his school was conserving energy.
“They aim for the big stuff like the AC systems,” Nickels said. “I was looking for small things I could do that would add up.”
He crunched the numbers from his school’s power usage data and estimated that if four light bulbs were removed from every classroom and all of the TVs were unplugged when school wasn’t in session, his school district could save $100,000 each year.
Nickels said he didn’t know what happened to his idea. The school board never hired anyone to analyze the light in his classrooms to see if removing bulbs was allowed under the board’s code.
But he doesn’t let that bother him. Nickels continues to help the environment while in college by repairing items his friends would otherwise throw away and replace.
“I think he’s the epitome of engineers, that when he sees a problem, he wants to fix it,” said Nickels’s Spring semester floormate, 18-year-old chemical engineering sophomore Eli Carter.
The students who lived on his floor in Hume Hall knew Nickels as the go-to guy when something wasn’t working. Carter said everyone on his floor was appreciative of what Nickels did for them.
“If I explain to him a problem, he explains what it might be,” Carter said.
Nickels said in the future he wants to use his ability to repair things to create a new kind of electric vehicle and other inventions that protect the environment.
“I’m looking forward to learning how electronics work so I can work on building my own stuff,” he said.
Corey Nickels, an 18-year-old electrical engineering sophomore, fixes and donates abandoned bicycles.