Illinois Institute of Technology faculty members volunteered as mechanical engineering mentors for ComEd’s sixth annual Icebox Derby, as part of a growing effort to encourage women to pursue education and careers in STEM fields. ComEd selected 30 high school girls to participate in the program and to help them realize career possibilities that will change the future of the workforce.
Icebox Derby participants transformed recycled refrigerators from ComEd’s Fridge and Freezer Recycling program into solar-enhanced derby cars. Industry professionals supervised the six student teams during assembly workshops and race day preparations, and on the competition day.
Carrie Hall, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Baisravan HomChaudhuri, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, both faculty members in the Department of Mechanical, Materials, and Aerospace Engineering, volunteered for build days and the final race day to support the high school girls throughout the process.
HomChaudhuri says, “The whole idea seemed really interesting at multiple levels. Most importantly, it gave me an opportunity to actively contribute to ComEd’s initiative to engage women in STEM fields.”
Although HomChaudhuri describes the final race day as exciting, he observed that students showed the most enthusiasm and ingenuity for building cars on the second and third build days. “The program seemed to be a good opportunity for high school students to learn about the different aspects of engineering and to have fun at the same time,” adds HomChaudhuri.
As noted on the Icebox Derby’s website, women are severely underrepresented in STEM fields, but with the right opportunities and inspiration, program leaders and volunteers aim to close the gap.
Hall also enjoyed being a part of this event for the first time and supporting the program’s mission. “The girls were very excited and eager to learn, so it was fun to work with them and see them grasp new concepts. It’s the kind of thing that I wish had been around when I was a kid, but since it didn’t exist then, it’s great to be a part of it now,” says Hall.
The derby challenge tests not only speed and craftsmanship, but also analytical skills and the ability of each team to work together.
HomChaudhuri shares, “Programs like these will motivate students—next-generation engineers—to foster problem-solving and analytical skills, build confidence and self-esteem, and prepare them well for a career in STEM fields.”
This year’s program culminated with the race day held at Daley Plaza in Chicago on August 3. Each participant also received a $1,500 scholarship.