The cafeteria was filled with middle and high school girls and several of them stared at me as I walked across the room. I can’t blame them for gawking as I had arrived at their school decked out in my race suit, carrying my laptop under one arm and helmet under the other. I glanced around to see several professionally dressed women also in attendance. This was a Women in STEM event and we all had been invited to talk about our various careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.
I didn’t get to meet a woman in racing until I was in my early twenties, but I remember it well. It was at the 2012 Rally in the 100 Acre Wood Rally and that single experience sparked a passion in me to become a rally co-driver. Here I sit eleven years later with 24 rallies under my belt. Speaking at the Women in STEM event was my full circle moment, where I could be their first woman in racing. I hoped that these young ladies could see some part of themselves in me that would inspire them to chase their dreams with the same passion that I chased mine.
“Be the person you needed when you were younger.” – Ayesha Siddiqi
I introduced myself and asked the table of kids, “Which STEM subjects do you think I use as a racing driver?” One answered, “I think technology because cars have computers,” and the rest agreed. “What if I told you that I use all of these subjects, and that there are some really cool jobs in the motorsports and automotive industry.” I began my presentation and was really proud of how engaged and clever the girls were with their answers.
We dove into each STEM subject and talked about how I personally used each as well as the career fields of each. We talked about the two main branches of science that racing teams must understand to build the most capable cars which are physics and chemistry. Several of them were shocked to find out their parent’s cars were powered by the chemical reaction of combustion. I asked them about the technology inside their cars. They were excited to share with me the various screens and cameras they have seen. I talked to them about the computers we use to diagnose and tune cars. One of my favorite examples of engineering is to show kids the roll cage in a racecar. A roll cage uses an understanding of both physics and geometry to build a structure that can distribute the forces of a crash to keep a driver safe. They were excited to share that they had learned that the triangle is the strongest shape and we looked for them in a picture of a roll cage.
I am always honest with kids when we turn to the subject of math. I tell them that it used to be my least favorite subject, and that I struggled with it until I learned how to apply math to my favorite subject—racing.
What could be more important than encouraging and inspiring the next generation of motorsport enthusiasts? Whether I’m at a car show or racing event, I make it a point to engage with the young people around me. I invite them to sit in and interact with my racecars, to ask me questions, and I share resources to help keep them engaged. This is my way of giving back to the community that has given so much to me.
Here’s the video version of my presentation. In the video description there is a list of resources that pertain to motorsports and STEM. Feel free to share with your own families at home, with your classrooms and scout troops, or better yet take these ideas and personalize them to present to your local community! —Kelsey Stephens
[All photos including children were shared with parental consent.]