Icebox Derby Girls set their marks

Prototype derby car | Photo courtesy of Dominic Gwinn
Prototype derby car | Photo courtesy of Dominic Gwinn

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] packed house greeted this year’s contestants at the kickoff for the second annual Icebox Derby, an engineering and academic competition geared towards generating interest for young girls in science, technology and mathematics careers.

In partnership with Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago, Girls for Science, Operation PUSH and the Chicago Urban League, 30 girls ages 13 to 19 from across Chicagoland will be assigned to six teams, and compete for a number of prizes such as scholarships, and a grand prize trip to National Flight School in Pensacola, Fla. Each team of five girls will be assigned female mentors from COMED currently working in STEM careers, as well local university students currently majoring in STEM fields.

“I think it’s important for the girls to learn that STEM is for everyone,” commented Haley Widel, a UIC student majoring in bioengineering, and mentor for the Spark Catchers. “There aren’t enough women who are in the STEM fields in general, and I think it’s important for them to be comfortable with it because it’s an intimidating field.”

The race will be held on Aug. 15 at the Field Museum of Natural History. Each team will complete five laps, pausing between each lap to solve a “STEM Stop” challenge question and switch drivers before finishing. Teams will be given bonuses for increased interest through social media sharing via the hashtag, #IceboxDerby.

“Building a regular soapbox derby car is already a challenge, but you give these girls power tools, like a Sawzall and ‘fridge, and it’s a whole other picture. I’m really proud of them!” beamed Jeremy Fountain, father of Samantha Fountain, a member of last year’s winning team, “Sonic Doom.”

A number of improvements over the previous years’ cars have been implemented, according to COMED Engineer Sam Torina. A longer, wider and more uniform chassis has been introduced, as well as hydraulic braking systems and roll cages for increased safety. MP3 players, lights, power indicators and a 1000w battery will also have to be installed before race day.

“We’ve expanded their challenges, so that as they build this year, they’ll also be faced with technical questions, STEM technical questions to earn points,” said Torina. “So, it’s not just the race, it’s what they’re going to learn as they’re building it.”

“I would say take it all in because this is a once in a lifetime experience,” Samantha Fountain, member of last year’s winning team, Sonic Boom, advised. “You really want to slow down. It feels like a long time even though it’s only a few hours, so it goes by real quick and then you’re done with it. I wish I could do it all over again. There’s no other time you can make a racing car out of a refrigerator.”

“Women represent about 24 percent of the STEM jobs, so we’d like to see more women in the area,” stated COMED President and CEO Anne Pramaggiore. “It’s a great area; there are a lot of great jobs, and we look at this as our workforce of the future. We’re really reaching out to these girls to get them engaged, to excite them about these technical careers to start to develop our workforce of the future early.

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