Each year, ComEd’s Icebox Derby program seeks to encourage elementary and high school girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM), and this year’s 30 participants included students from the West Side.
 
Vanessa Nieto is a 17-year-old senior at St. Ignatius College Prep on the Near West Side who likes math and said she wants to be a mechanical engineer.
 
“I like creating crafts and I also like math. I did an engineering apprenticeship already and being part of this program will help me develop my engineering skills,” she said. “I know this is a male dominated field but I want to change that after I graduate from college.”
 
A kickoff party was held last week in Humboldt Park for students and their families, who heard words of encouragement from former participants now serving as program mentors, and from ComEd President and CEO Anne Parmaggiore.
 
While women make up 50 percent of the U.S. population, they only occupy 24 percent of STEM careers, according to Parmaggiore.
 
“That’s an underrepresentation of women,” contends Parmaggiore. “The Icebox Derby was designed to get young women interested in STEM careers.”
 
One participant, Lesly Dspinoza, said she likes science and wants to become a nurse. The 17-year-old senior at ITW David Speer Academy High School in Austin, learned about the program after seeing an ad on Facebook.
 
“I’m glad I saw that ad. I have always been interested in science and this program is a great start for my career as a nurse,” said Dspinoza. 
 
Parmaggiore explained that more STEM programs are needed for youths, especially girls and minorities.
 
“The youths are our future at ComEd. We want our kids to be able to compete in the 21st Century economy, which is very technology oriented,” Parmaggiore said. “And we want to make sure Chicago is right up in creating STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) stars.”
 
Over the next two weeks, participants will work in groups of six to build a go-kart from a refrigerator, and each student will receive a $1,000 scholarship, while the members of the winning group will receive a $1,500 scholarship.
 
The program, which includes eight black students this year, is for girls between 13- and 18-years-old and will end on Aug. 12, when participants will race their newly-built cars at a 3 p.m. outdoor event at the Daley Center, 50 W. Washington St.
 
Vade Reese, 13, is an eighth-grader at Stem Magnet Academy in North Lawndale and wants to become an engineer, said she appreciates the program “because I like to build things my way.”
 
She added that STEM is important for future generations because it is needed to do so many things.
 
“You need engineers to improve buildings, design stuff like cars and fix things that go wrong,” said Reese. “And if you’re going to fix something you might as well do it your way.”
 
Since its 2013 inception, 120 girls have participated in the Icebox Derby program, according to ComEd officials.
 
But besides its Icebox Derby program for girls, ComEd also offers a Solar Spotlight program during Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month, which awards scholarships to participants. 
 
Founded in 2016, the program was designed to create awareness and interest in STEM education and careers among black and Latino high school students. ComEd officials said the program provides students with a hands-on STEM experience, allowing them to work with mentors and outside experts to learn more about solar energy and build solar cells. In total, 200 students have participated in the program.
 
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that 30 West Side students were part of the Icebox Derby. This article has since been updated.