Boosting Women’s Participation in STEM

By Jim Williams

It’s called the STEM gap; far more men than women in science, technology, engineering, and math. A fun competition in Chicago for girls aims to change that.

CBS 2’s Jim Williams talked to one college senior who was so inspired a few years ago, that she changed her career path.

Four years ago, Michelle Perez was in high school, leaning toward studying biology in college, until she picked up a wrench at ComEd’s 2018 Icebox Derby.

“This was really like the push that I needed to get into engineering,” she said. “It was a really great experience for me.”

Michelle and teams of girls built solar-powered go-karts and raced them in a competition at Daley Plaza, sponsored by ComEd.

“I was so happy. My team actually did not win the race, but it was just the idea of being there with all the other girls that it made it worth it,” she said. “They inspire me.”

Michelle was so inspired, she went on to major in mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; one of the top engineering programs in the country. She’s set to graduate next year.

“They told me to not give up, to not be afraid of pursuing what I want,” she said.

This year, 30 other girls — 13 to 18 years old — will build and race electric vehicles in the ComEd EV Rally. ComEd hopes the competition and the female engineers who serve as mentors will encourage the girls to consider STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math).

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“It’s very fulfilling. I’m an engineer by degree,” said ComEd’s Yasmine El-Tigani. She supervises the program and said it seeks to spark change in the community, noting women make up only 27% of the STEM workforce.

In this competition, she sees how the girls’ confidence grows.

“As they keep going through the builds, and they get things to work, you can see how proud they are at the very end; and when they get to race the cars themselves, they feel really satisfied. They have accomplished something, and it gives them the idea that, if they put their mind to something, they can get it accomplished,” she said.

This year’s class will race on August 6 outside the Museum of Science and Industry.

Perhaps one day, they too will study engineering like former competitor Michelle Perez, soon to be an engineer, whose aspirations got a big boost four years ago.

“It’s a whole learning experience that you hold with you forever, and till this day I hold a lot of what I learned with me,” she said.

The ComEd competition is open to girls 13 to 18 years old. They build the electric vehicles in late July and early August.

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