In an effort to narrow the gap between male and female involvement in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), an Everett High School math teacher organized a two-day summer workshop that enabled girls to deepen their involvement in the school’s STEM Team.
For the past three years, EHS students have taken part in a NASCAR STEM initiative called the “Ten80 Student Racing Challenge” in which teams from around the country build and race remote-controlled cars. The program has proven to be a huge success, and Everett High’s team, the Crimson Bolt, finished fifth in the 2014 National Competition this past May at NASCAR’s headquarters in North Carolina.
Despite the fact that girls make up nearly half of the Crimson Bolt roster, the students driving, building and maintaining the cars have been mostly boys. By the end of the school year, several female students approached math teacher and team advisor Anna Seiders expressing their desire to learn more about the process of assembling and driving the car. Seiders responded by putting together a workshop in which the students assembled a remote-control (RC) car from scratch.
“I wanted to find a way to empower the girls and prove they could do everything the boys could do, and possibly do it better,” Seiders said
Jeremy Morris from Ten80 Education led the workshop. Morris started with an anecdote from his teaching days that set the tone for the next two days. He had two students vying for the driver’s position of his racing team; one male and one female. The boy implied the girl would never be able to beat him and would be more useful to just hold his umbrella. In actuality, the girl decimated the challenge and won the driver’s position. Girls can and will do as much as the boys.
At that, Morris spilled out a pile of parts and told the girls the build a car. No instructions. All the girls had to look at was a model car. Even Seiders was overwhelmed by all the small parts, saying “I had no idea how to build the car from scratch! But, I knew the girls were watching my reaction so instead of allowing myself to feel defeated, I dug right in and said ‘Let’s do this!’”
Slowly but surely, the girls built a RC car from nothing, with little or no knowledge of any of the mechanisms in the car. Throughout the first day, the girls divided themselves into groups, focusing on different parts of the car. Morris pulled one at a time away to teach them specifics about different mechanisms of the car. Little did they know, they would be teaching their peers about what they learned the next day.
From suspensions to gears, motors to tires, at the end of two days, there was an expert in each. “These girls are very smart. They have learned more in these two days than some schools learn all year,” commented Morris, who was impressed with the determination of the girls.
Some students came to the workshop having never touched an RC car and surprised themselves by what they accomplished. “I learned how to take apart a motor and put it back together,” said Lisa Silveira, an incoming sophomore. “I can’t wait for this school year. I’m beyond excited to be a part of the STEM Team.”
The girls will bring everything they’ve learned back to the STEM Team this year as part of both the class and the after school club. As experts, they will be leading and teaching other students. They are excited to expand on what they have learned and plan to build a representative car from the girls to challenge the boys.
“I would like to learn how all the parts of the car work together and how they can be individually customized to improve the car,” said incoming senior and team veteran Rihabe Oulal.
The girls are leaving the workshop having learned so much about the engineering process and the physics involved in racing. They are eager to build upon what they have learned. You will find them to researching, designing, build and testing possible solutions, which may lead to more questions. But, that after all is the engineering process.
According to HYPERLINK “http://www.whitehouse.gov” www.whitehouse.gov, as of August 2011, women represent only 24% of the STEM workforce in the United States. “If we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, we’ve got to open doors for everyone. We need all hands on deck, and that means clearing the hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering, and math,” said the First Lady, Michelle Obama.
The largest hurdle for high school girls is confidence. The EHS STEM girls proved to themselves — not to their teachers or to the boys — that they can and will do everything the boys do.
Incoming senior Bailey Shea summarized the experience best when she said, “Girls don’t have to hold umbrellas.”
Girls participating in the workshop include: incoming seniors and team veterans Jacqueline Aguilar, Natalia Alvarez, Jocelyn Munguia, Rihabe Oulal, Bailey Shea, and incoming sophomores Pahola Aguilar, Larissa De Oliveira Costa, Mariah Matos, and Lisa Silveira.