The Collected Works of Dominic Gwinn

Icebox Derby girls burn competition

Posted in Chicago, Technology by Dominic Gwinn on August 20, 2015

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on Aug 30, 2015.

Icebox Derby.jpg
The Icebox Derby girls 2015. Courtesy of Dominic Gwinn

With fans, parents and local leaders cheering, and the Blue Angels roaring high above the city, this past Saturday, the second annual Icebox Derby Challenge was won by team Flaming Zing.

An academic and engineering competition for young girls with an interest in science, technology and mathematics careers, the race saw 30 girls ages 13 to 19 build and race electronically-powered cars made from recycled refrigerators around a pop-up track at the Field Museum of Natural History.

Sponsored by ComEd, and in partnership with the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago, Girls for Science, Operation PUSH and the Chicago Urban League, the 30 girls were arranged in teams of six. Each team was paired with engineering mentors from ComEd, as well as local university students currently majoring in STEM fields.

Instead of lounging around, the girls spent their summers learning how to work as a team while building their 48-volt derby car, complete with functioning lights, power indicators and gears.

“Each week, we found it easier to bond and goof around,” remembered Carissa Lehning. “The first week, we were kind of shy around each other; the third week we were caught dancing on video. It’s just about having fun.”

The race, comprised of three heats, required the girls to utilize the skills they learned throughout the build competition. After each lap, teams switched drivers after completing an academic exercise, such as assembling a bicycle, creating working circuit boards, inflating tires to their correct P.S.I., and calculating miles per hour based on gear ratios and links in bicycle chain.

Each girl was awarded $1,000 towards a scholarship, with the winning team receiving a trip to a technology and innovation camp at Chicago technology start-up incubator, 1871, as well as new MacBook Air laptops.

“The whole idea behind this is to raise awareness of STEM,” commented ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore. “Give the girls a hands-on experience project so that they can really take it out of the classroom and apply it. We hope that creates more excitement… There are no losers. They all walk away with a great experience and some scholarship money, and we hopefully sparked an interest in an opportunity in STEM.”

“At the end of the day, I get to say I built a race car out of a refrigerator,” said a gleeful RaMaya Johnson of the team Royal Burn. “Not every girl gets to do that, so I’m proud of that.”

Her mentor, Sabeen Admani, a student at Northwestern University majoring in Robotics, was drawn to the competition because of her own experiences growing up with her father and two brothers. “My Dad always tried to include me. Everything they were doing he let me do too, but I knew a lot of the girls didn’t have that same experience, so I wanted to give them that.”

“It’s been the most wonderful experience for all of us,” beamed Frances Lehning, the mother of Carissa Lehning. “It’s nice and wonderful what the kids have learned; they’ve had hands on experience… It’s not a bad way to spend the summer at all!”

This post is also available in: Spanish

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