ComEd, the largest electric utility in Illinois, is taking great strides not only for sustainability in America, but with providing young women the opportunity to become leaders.
This summer, the company launched “The Icebox Derby,” a project to empower young women by providing them with the tools to grow into powerful, important women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) work force.
Thirty-one girls age 13 to 18 have been selected to participate in the Icebox Derby competition based on their love for STEM, and they’re divided into six teams to build a racecar out of an old refrigerator. Michelle Blaise, SVP of technical services, says the competition is teaching the girls “to work in teams, to be creative and to work in a collaborative environment while building something.”
Lexi, of the Nerds of Steel team, is geared up and ready for the scientific adventure. She says her fascination with science started with her favorite aunt. “She went off to college and came back different. She turned schizophrenic and she’s never been the same since. I want to know what happened. Was it a chemical imbalance? Did something traumatic happen? I started to research these things.”
Once Lexi found her passion, she didn’t have a clear idea on how to practically apply it. One of the goals of The Icebox Derby is to channel these girls’ talents and help them understand how they can be used in a potential career. Ms. Blaise believes that “[the derby] will increase their enthusiasm about these subjects better because they can connect it to something practical.” While the girls are working on their racecars, they are gaining real world experience in the field of science.
Throughout the six-week process, each team has to complete six challenges. As each week goes by, their old refrigerator slowly transforms into a racecar. The ultimate goal is to build the fastest and most efficient racecar. All six cars compete in the Icebox Derby, set for August 23, 2014, at the Field Museum. Beyond the $1,000 scholarships for each contestant who completes the challenge, additional prizes will be unveiled on race day for those who cross the finish line first.
“What’s most challenging for me is following directions because I’m a visual, hands-on learner,” explains Lexi. “I personally have trouble looking at words and trying to figure out what they’re telling me to do.” While Lexi may find following instructions challenging, she soars when it comes to social media. She writes for True Star Magazine, which gives her an advantage in social media. She contributes by writing for the blog and posting on social media on behalf of the team.
Each week, the teams have a bonus task of spreading the word of their progress on social media. The goal is to gain twitter followers and have as many people share their posts as possible. If a team reaches their goal for the week, they win a special prize that gives them an advantage on race day.
With half of the competition complete, Lexi already feels that she has overcome some of her biggest struggles. “I’m an unorganized person and this competition is helping me to be organized, because we have deadlines and we have to stick to them.” She is learning how to effectively manage her time while collaborating with her peers, and how to be more social. “I’m normally kind of socially awkward. This competition is helping me to communicate with other people.”
One of the great aspects of the competition is that these girls are surrounded with other girls likes themselves. It helps them to realize that they’re not the only one interested in the subjects that they like. “I see a bunch of smart girls and they just make me feel better about myself,” says Lexi. “I’m not normally surrounded by other girls that are just like me.”
The competition has also given these girls the opportunity to make friends. “I’m pretty sure we’re going to hang out after the competition is over,” shares Lexi. We’ve already started making plans for Six Flags so I’m really excited.”
Ms. Blaise is nostalgic when talking about the girls involved in the competition. “As I watch these girls, they remind me so much of me when I was their age.”
The word empower is so much more than a hashtag in this competition. Each of the young girls has had to overcome obstacles in their lives. “(This competition) inspires me to push harder and beat stereotypes,” explains Lexi. “I’m tired of people thinking that just because I’m a girl that I can’t do anything. This competition is my comeback to people who have put me down as a young woman.”
Ms. Blaise concludes that the derby “will open doors for these girls. To know that they love math, science, technology and that ultimately this will empower them to unleash their full potential to become leaders in this field.” At the last second, she adds, “I need somebody to replace me someday.”
For more information on the Icebox Derby and to follow all six teams’ progress on social media, visit www.theiceboxderby.com.
By Danielle Spence