Organizers hope weekend race of electric go-karts will power careers in math and science among young women

“I’ve definitely had guys tell me this is a boy’s thing and I really don’t need to say anything to them. I just prove them wrong,” said Isabel Loza, 17, a senior in high school and a member of the Green Galaxy racing team.

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Members of the Violet Vortex team ready their electric go-kart for a weekend rally meant to spur interest in STEM fields among young women.

Allison Novelo | Sun-Times

After a two-year hiatus, the ComEd EV Rally returns this weekend with a power race among young women from across the Chicago area who will go head-to-head — or bumper-to-bumper — in hand-built electric go-karts.

In its seventh year, the rally features six teams, each with 30 young women ages 13 to 18. Under the banner of getting more women into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, the race will take place at the Museum of Science and Industry on Saturday afternoon.

“I’ve definitely had guys tell me this is a boy’s thing and I really don’t need to say anything to them. I just prove them wrong,” said Isabel Loza, 17, a senior in high school and a member of the Green Galaxy racing team.

Loza said she didn’t feel intimidated by the lack of women in STEM fields. In fact, being underestimated by her male peers pushed her to “show them that women can do anything they can do.”

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Members of the Blue Quest team work on their entry into the ComEd EV Rally this weekend.

Allison Novelo | Sun-Times

Each team builds their go-karts under the supervision of mentors from Commonwealth Edison. It began with repurposed refrigerator boxes with “sticks for steering wheels” and has evolved into a colorful display of sleek cars.

The teams are Blue Quest, Green Galaxy, Orange Flare, Teal Turbo, Violet Vortex and Yellow Spark. Their go-karts boast a variety of decorations, including vibrant streamers and hand-drawn designs.

The mentors are some of the most senior engineers at ComEd. While taking a “hands-off” approach, they aim to teach more than just electrical engineering but also how to excel.

“Having worked in this industry and not seeing a lot of women adds to that stereotype that STEM fields are difficult and just for men,” said one of the mentors, Ana Manzanares.

“Sometimes you can still sense that the men in this field don’t take you as seriously as they would other men,” she said. “It’s subtle, but you can still see that.”

Manzanares credits a mentor with introducing her to electrical engineering. “I didn’t have plans to go to college, and I didn’t even know what engineers did,” she said. “But then someone asked me if I ever thought about engineering.”

Eden Wilson, an incoming junior in high school, said she felt empowered by the ComEd program and appreciated having a mentor who is a woman of color. The 16-year-old stressed the need for more Black women in STEM.

“Coming here was very eye-opening because hearing a black woman teach me how to fix circuits showed me that it’s possible not just to be in STEM, but to also excel and be a leader,” she said.

This year’s rally attracted close to 120 applicants, according to John Schoen, senior communications manager at ComEd. Applicants sent in short-answer responses highlighting their interest in STEM fields.

“We hear stories all the time about a young lady in an engineering club — but she’s the only girl in the club,” said Schoen. “We want to give these girls a chance to work with someone they can look up to and learn from. That’s why we do this.”

Win or lose, everyone will get a $2,000 scholarship and an iPad. Participation may also lead to internship and employment opportunities within ComEd, according to Schoen.

Regardless of the outcome, several teens said they were thrilled to show off their brightly decorated go-karts and will walk away with “bragging rights.”

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