From Motor Sports to Manufacturing, Students Experience STEM Careers

By Jaree Ervin

Vice President of Development, Indianapolis Urban League

The Indianapolis Urban League collaborates with local schools to promote the importance of exposing students to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines in the urban community. Students take part in a variety of activities — including designing their own miniature race cars — to learn about the role that STEM plays in some of Indianapolis’ most in-demand careers.

Project Ready is a National Urban League academic and youth leadership model for students in grades 6-12. One component of Project Ready, the USA Funds®-supported Project Ready STEM, provides academic enrichment activities to help students meet achievement standards, and exposes them to hands-on science activities and STEM careers.

In Indianapolis, Project Ready STEM engaged 175 students in after-school STEM-related activities during the 2015-2016 school year alone. The program provided students with experiences that promote character development along with enhanced critical-thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills.

Indianapolis Urban League Project Ready STEM operates a 90-minute after-school program in three Indianapolis middle schools, Mondays through Thursdays, for 26 school weeks. The students enrolled in Project Ready STEM programming are experiencing firsthand how science, technology, engineering and mathematics can lead to careers in many areas that are in high demand.

Racing to learn
With support from USA Funds, students at the Project Ready STEM location at Creston Middle School in Indianapolis organized a drag race that integrated science, technology, engineering and math. The students learned about racing and careers associated with motor sports. They used the design process in an effort to develop the fastest and most reliable dragster — while staying within specific constraints.

Students conducted research on energy, friction, dragsters, design and aerodynamics. Once the research was complete, they constructed detailed thumbnail sketches of their dragsters. Then they transformed their thumbnail sketches onto a 3-D CAD program to show detailed views of their designs. Once drawings and blueprints were complete, students used appropriate tools to manufacture their dragsters.

Instructor Ryan Hendren tries out one of the dragsters created by Project Ready STEM students at Creston Middle School in Indianapolis.
Instructor Ryan Hendren tries out one of the dragsters created by Project Ready STEM students at Creston Middle School in Indianapolis.

Finally, students raced the miniature dragsters they created and compared results to determine whose design was the fastest, most aerodynamic and most reliable. Students also calculated and recorded track data such as acceleration, velocity and time. They kept detailed notes of all of their projects and sequential design steps — from conception to implementation — in their individual field journals.

Firsthand experience
Other examples of recent Project Ready STEM activities include:

  • Guest speakers, including a local financial services provider, who described the path she took toward becoming a finance major and stressed the benefits of pursuing a career in the STEM fields.
  • A field trip to the Praxair Surface Technologies manufacturing facility, where students learned how employees work to provide protective coatings for items like aircraft propellers and engines — and how the STEM disciplines play a role in that work.
  • A STEM career fair hosted by the employees of AT&T Indiana, providing information to students about STEM-related careers in fields such as information technology, engineering and construction.

The work of Project Ready STEM is in line with the mission of the Indianapolis Urban League: to assist African-Americans, other minorities and disadvantaged individuals to achieve social and economic equality.  Learn more about our five-point strategy of empowerment.