The race to learning
By Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen Post-Tribune correspondent October 10, 2013 3:30PM
Rayumos Hope of Lew Wallace STEM Academy enjoys his hands-on experience at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum. | Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen/For Sun-Times Media
Starting Grid maneuvered the Gary Community School Corporation into a position to accelerate its Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education program.
Starting Grid is an Indianapolis-based company that sponsors Indy Car drivers. Its founder, Chris Miles, incorporates diversity into the motorsports industry. Gary STEM students recently traveled to Indianapolis to tour the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and meet one of Starting Grid’s drivers.
The Urban Teachers Education Program of Indiana University Northwest was the liaison between Starting Grid and GCSC.
The collaborative effort is ultimately intended to strengthen underprivileged students’ participation in the academic areas of STEM.
Students from Lew Wallace STEM Academy were joined by West Side Leadership Academy for the motorsports experience. Wirt Emerson Visual and Performing Arts Academy’s multimedia team filmed a documentary of the event.
“The science of motion, technology in racing, engineering of tires, and the math involved in gas mileage, makes this a perfect fit for STEM students,” said UTEP assistant professor Matthew Benus. “There’s quite a demand for this partnership.”
During the visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, students were escorted around the speedway, toured the facility and gained insight from a Starting Grid’s newest Indy car racer from Zimbabwe.
“I started racing in go-carts when I was 3 years old,” Axcil Jefferies said.
Afterward, Toyota sponsored him in South Africa, BMW backed him in Europe, and now he’s racing for Chris Miles of Starting Grid.
The 19-year-old Loughborough University student, who races with a GCSC logo on the rear wing of his Indy racing car, motivated 30 students from Gary.
“There are two types of professional racing,” he explained. “Open-wheel racing is called Indy style, with slicks and wings, it requires being more physically fit.”
Indy cars have no power steering, the center of gravity is much lower — which makes them faster — and the lateral G-force is five times your body weight.
He used basic examples to demonstrate the difference between positive and negative G-force.
When your bodyweight feels lighter while taking off in an airplane that’s called negative G-force, he says.
“An example of positive G-force is the intense pulling of your body, especially on your neck, when racing’’ Jefferies said. “The second type of professional racing is NASCAR, these cars are similar to production style vehicles, and they’re not as fast.”
Jefferies made the fun learning experience relevant.
“This is why motorsports and STEM education is a natural fit,” Benus said.
Students were transported from the motorsports museum to the Bryan Herta Auto Center for a STEM Skype session in Mile’s Indy Social Media Garage.
Army Corp of Engineers eCyberMission program ambassador Sonya Trammell-Jones facilitated the Skype session.
The U.S. Army’s civilian scientists and engineers create solutions for field soldiers, and its eCyberMission is designed to attract students into scientific fields, she says.
The program offers incentives to underserved communities.
UTEP professor Rochelle Brock says all entities involved have the same vision to help underprivileged students in the field of science.
“UTEP is designed to address unique challenges,” Brock said. “We train teachers how to approach urban environments, dispel myths, and address racism, sexism, and White privilege.”
Compton High School in Los Angeles also joined internet-based video chat.
The discussion examined the digital divide between 21st century learners with access to technology, and those who do not.
Lew Wallace STEM Academy has high hopes of entering the global race of preparing students for a more competitive workforce.