Empowering Communities

Dad Planted the Seed; IceBox Derby Mentors Watered its Growth

August 23, 2016

Tajuana Jefferson and Lauren Hernandez both know first-hand how valuable mentors can be. Before becoming engineers and mentors for the 2016 Icebox Derby, both had family members who piqued their interest in the engineering field.

“I’ve enjoyed math from an early age and became pretty good at it while growing up,” Lauren recalls. “My father and brother are electrical engineers, so becoming an engineer seemed like the right career path for me too.” Lauren earned a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Tajuana caught the engineering bug as a child when she helped her father, a machinist, fix mechanical/electrical appliances around her childhood home in Chicago.

Tajuana Jefferson, ComEd engineer and mentor for the 2016 Icebox Derby’s Naturally Driven team.

“Engineering is my passion!” says Tajuana, who earned an electrical engineering degree from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

Although Lauren and Tajuana were introduced to engineering by the most important male in their lives – their dads, they both agree that it’s important for girls who are interested in careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) to have female role models. Both have first-hand experience being one of only a few females in their engineering classes in college and in their jobs.

Tajuana’s engineering experience of being the only female in her chosen profession started early. In pursuit of adventure to serve her country and acquire hands-on engineering experience, Tajuana joined the United States Army after graduating from high school.

Tajuana took electrical and engineering technology courses while in the military and was selected to serve at a highly-coveted military post in Italy. There she assembled and repaired generators large enough to power a small military hospital. She was the only woman in her platoon while stationed in Italy. Tajuana was later activated to Iraq to supervise the power generation shop where she trained a team composed primarily of men, with one woman, in her section to work on electrical generation and distribution.

“I worked hard and learned as much as I could in class and in the field, so having the skills I needed to get the job done made being the only woman a little easier,” Tajuana says. But she notes that having a female mentor would have been valuable during the early years of her career to give her advice about working in a male-dominated industry.

Lauren recalls being one of only a few women in her college engineering classes, but she was lucky enough to build a female network outside of the classroom. Lauren lived in a college dorm geared to female engineering students. In addition, she expanded her network by joining her college’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders during which she traveled to a small town in Guatemala to help develop a running water system.

“Living in the dorm and being a member of Engineers Without Borders were invaluable opportunities to bond with other female students who shared my passion for engineering,” Lauren recalls. “Learning to become an engineer is incredibly difficult, so having people who you can relate to during your studies and on the job are important in developing your skills.”

Both Lauren and Tajuana are excited to mentor the 2016 Icebox Derby girls. This is Lauren’s first year and Tajuana’s second, having served as a mentor for the 2015 Icebox Derby.

“As a mentor, it’s my job to show the girls not only how to put components together, but why they put the components together a certain way. Engineering is about the design,” Tajuana says. “I want to share my knowledge with them so that they can understand what engineering is about and make educated choices if they decide to pursue a career in STEM.”

The ComEd Icebox Derby is an educational competition involving 30 teen girls from across Chicagoland who will work in teams to transform recycled refrigerators into electric racecars. The Icebox Derby provides a hands-on educational platform by which girls get to work closely with ComEd mentors and other technical experts to learn about practical applications of STEM in the world and in the workforce. Important lessons about teamwork and safety are also closely tied to this initiative. For more information, visit the Icebox Derby website at https://www.theiceboxderby.com/.