Empowering Communities

Bonding, Building and Blooming: Icebox Derby Girls Prep for Race

August 10, 2017

Transforming a recycled refrigerator into an icebox derby car isn’t a simple task. It involves a mixture of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), as well as patience, a willingness to collaborate and the drive to try something new.

“I really enjoyed learning how to wire the car,” says Giselle, 13, one of 30 girls chosen to participate in the 2017 ComEd Icebox Derby. “I’m excited to be doing hands-on work and learning how solar panels work.”

Giselle, who wants to be an engineer, is a member of Blue Quest, one of six teams composed of five girls apiece. The other teams are Green Galaxy, Orange Flare, Teal Turbo, Violet Vortex and Yellow Spark.

The girls have been working for two weeks repurposing recycled refrigerators into icebox derby cars that they will put to the test on a race track at Daley Plaza on Saturday, Aug. 12, in a competition to win the STEM Cup, scholarships, and other prizes.

Juliette, also a member of Blue Quest, said she is surprised at how much math is involved in building the car. At only 13 years old, she said she’s learning trigonometry and she loves it.

Each team is given a white refrigerator with its doors and its entire interior molding, shelving and mechanical features removed. The refrigerator, which then resembles a box, is placed over a metal go-cart.

“The refrigerator serves as the body and the go-cart serves as the base,” says John Shelton, the lead mechanic for the Icebox Derby.

The go-cart frame comes equipped with a battery, motor, seat and wheels. The girls, under the guidance of their ComEd women engineer mentors, are instructed on installing solar panels, a second battery, headlights, an ignition and a horn. Most steps require meticulously connecting wires and safely using automotive tools.

“These girls are basically learning how to perform electrical, mechanical and circuitry work to build a functioning car,” says John, who has a doctorate in mechanical engineering and is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Ill.

Some of the girls, who are all between the ages of 13 – 18, will get their first taste of learning to drive as each of them takes a turn at the wheel on race day.

“The Icebox Derby is a great opportunity for the girls to make new friends who share the same interests, display leadership skills and get energized about STEM,” says Peter, whose daughter Rachel is a member of Blue Quest.

Rachel has been taking engineering classes since middle school, but this is the first time she hasn’t been one of only a couple of girls in class, he says. She wants to become an engineer.

Launched in 2014, ComEd’s Icebox Derby is designed to educate and inspire young women to explore opportunities in STEM. Data from the National Girls Collaborative project shows that while women earn more than half of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the biological sciences, they earn far fewer in the computer sciences, engineering, physics, and mathematics and statistics.