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.

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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

Icebox Derby Girls set their marks

Posted in Chicago, Technology by Dominic Gwinn on July 2, 2015

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on July 2, 2015.

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A 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.

This post is also available in: Spanish

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