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Wheaton High students have the drive to succeed in the sciences –

by Terri Hogan

Senior Staff Writer

Women drivers are no joking matter at Wheaton High School after members of its Society of Women Engineers Club won the sixth annual Washington, D.C., Electric Vehicle Grand Prix. Not only did girls drive the car, but they designed and built it.

The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) is a relatively new club at Wheaton High School, founded with the mission to “Stimulate women to achieve full potential in careers as engineers and leaders, expand the image of the engineering profession as a positive force in improving the quality of life, and demonstrate the value of diversity.”

Maya Wolf of Olney, enrolled in the Engineering Academy magnet program at Wheaton, is one of two students who drove car No. 217, representing Wheaton High School and ultimately winning first place, unseating Perry Hall High School of Baltimore County, the three-year reigning champion.

Wolf, 17, said because the school’s engineering program, as well as extracurriculars like the robotics club, are male dominated, she and her friends were looking for a more casual organization specifically for girls.

She and classmate Meili Bowden, now seniors, started planning the club at the end of their sophomore year.

The girls approached Wheaton High School engineering teacher Thomas Siegrist, an Olney resident, and asked him to sponsor the club.

“The girls came to me about starting a Society of Women Engineers club,” he said. “They came to me because we don’t have a female engineering teacher. I was honored. There wasn’t a place in for girls in our Engineering Academy to congregate and I thought this would be a good place for that.”

The girls established their goals and recruited members. They set out to provide a network for girls in engineering at Wheaton, promote engineering for girls in middle and elementary schools, and compete as a girl-only team in engineering challenges.

As the club president, Bowden, of Silver Spring, took charge of communication, organization and management. She plans and runs the meetings, coordinates the needs of the team, and organizes the work sessions, car testing and bonding activities.

Fundraisers allowed the girls to purchase the parts needed to get the car running and pay the Grand Prix entry fee.

The club is open to all who want to participate in furthering the role that women play in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

“It’s a really inviting club,” Wolf said. “A lot of girls don’t feel comfortable in other engineering spaces and even some girls not interested in engineering helped us out.”

The Grand Prix is not the sole focus of the club, but it developed into a project when the girls learned that the school already had cars from previous students who participated in the event several years ago.

Early in their junior year, the girls began researching the competition and the car, utilizing their STEM skills.

“We spent a lot of the year working on the cars because they were in pretty bad condition.” Wolf said. “We designed the outside of the car and did a lot of test runs.”

They met after school, during lunch and sometimes on Saturdays.

Siegrist, who has taught at Wheaton for 16 years, provides mentorship to the club, along with access to funding resources, tools and competition information. He also helps with coordinating activities, providing meeting and work space, ordering parts and transporting the electric car.

“I just facilitate things and help along the way, but it is pretty impressive how organized they are,” he said. “The girls worked very hard to put the car back together and to get it as efficient as they could.”

The Grand Prix is sponsored by Global EEE, an organization focused on education, energy and environment.

The event, originally scheduled for May, was rained out and postponed until Sept. 8. Six high school teams from the D.C. region competed. That number was down from previous years, likely due to the date change.

Each team designed and built its own vehicle based on race rules and standards.

According to www.globaleee.org, student teams apply engineering, science and math principles and strategies to construct and race the battery-powered electric cars. The project helps improve their understanding of renewable-energy technologies and project management while working in team environment.

On the day of the event, the RFK Stadium parking lot was transformed into a racetrack.

The race is about efficiency, not speed.

Each of the cars is fueled by lead-acid battery packs, not exceeding 73 pounds.

The winner is determined by who drives the car the farthest during a one-hour run on a closed track using only battery power.

The strategy is to end the race with practically no battery left after completing the most laps.

The Wheaton High School team won this year’s competition with 54 laps.

“I was really surprised since we didn’t expect to win,” Wolf said. “Our car was older than the other cars and we were up against the reigning champion of the past three years.”

Siegrist agreed, saying he was “completely shocked” that the Wheaton team won.

“I wasn’t expecting that at all,” he said. “It is one of the best moments I have had as a teacher in the county. To see the girls so excited about the competition and knowing how much work they put in to it, I am very proud.”

The team also won Best Car Graphics Design Award and Bowden received the 2018 Women in Science & Engineering (WISE) Award.

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