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‘Girl power’ propels St. Joseph Academy engineering team to regional win

"The Road Warriors" and their project for the F1 in Schools competition.


By Sue Botos

When the pre-engineering team from St. Joseph Academy (SJA) showed up at a competition involving the design of a Formula One, or “Indy style,” race car, their rivals did not expect the all-girl group to take a victory lap.

But “The Road Warriors” surprised the other, mostly male, teams by winning the presentation category, and scoring high in several others, at the F1 in Schools regional competition in Granville, Ohio, in March. The good showing qualified the group for the national contest to be held at the Michigan International Speedway in May. This is the second consecutive year an SJA team has qualified for nationals.

“As the only all-girls’ team, they (the boys) expected us to do worse,” said group leader Melissa Brodsky, a senior from Euclid. Her junior teammates, Brianna Dombo (Parma), Kelly Haller (Strongsville), Patricia Kay (Lakewood), Karen McGraw (Cleveland) and Beatrice Ridmann (Rocky River), all enthusiastically agreed that they were surprised to have done so well, but were ready to compete. “We were confident we would do our best. We knew we were well- prepared,” said Dombo, during a recent visit with the team.

The six students were part of teacher John Lesko’s engineering class, which met from August to January. Divided into four groups, the class worked on car designs as its final project, and those who wanted to compete in the F1 challenge notified Lesko. “This was the first year I had to turn people away,” he commented, adding that nine students volunteered for six spots.

Drawing on information and designs from the class competition, the students used CAD (Computer Aided Design) software to design, analyze, manufacture, test and race a miniature Co2-powered balsa wood car. At the regional contest, they faced teams of three to six students – only two of which had a female member – which all produced a 20-page portfolio, designed a pit display, marketed their team and sponsors, and gave a 10-minute verbal presentation to a group of engineers. Competition rankings are based on a team’s combined score in all categories, and it was in the last category where “The Road Warriors” left the competition in the dust.

“We were clear in what we were talking about,” stated McGraw, showing the presentation board prepared by the team, which detailed design, analysis, aerodynamic research and manufacture, as well as acknowledgment of sponsors.

“Some of the groups used iPads, but we presented our information in a more understandable way,” added Ridmann.

The team agreed that, being girls, they were more attentive to the details and visual appeal of the presentation. “The boys really kept refining their cars over and over,” commented Lesko.

They are not eligible to participate in the competition again, but the girls advised any future teams to pay special attention to aerodynamics, an area they felt held them back during the actual 20-meter race.

While both Lesko and the students agreed they meshed well as a team, the most difficult part was coordinating six busy schedules. “Finding the time to get together was hard. Most of the time we did separate tasks,” said Ridmann.

“It was a lot of time management and extra work on top of the other things we do,” added Kay.

Due to those busy schedules, which include end-of-the year exams, the group will not travel to Michigan for the national competition. However, they felt the project was time well spent. “We were absolutely thrilled to participate in this competition and are so honored that we qualified for the national competition,” said Brodsky.

Although all of “The Road Warriors” indicated they were interested in some type of engineering field, car design is definitely not in their plans. “It’s interesting, but it’s way beyond me,” stated McGraw.



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