If Collete Davis’ dreams come true, science for students in K-12 will involve fewer boring theoretical lectures filled with four-syllable words and more “Wow, that’s cool.”
In many ways Collete is leading by example. She skipped sixth grade entirely, graduated from high school two years early, and won a $40,000 National Science Foundation scholarship to attend renowned Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
At the same time she was embracing the sciences in school, Collete used her science and mechanical-oriented brain to launch a successful karting career.
Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields are almost as rare as women in racing. So with the help of Embry-Riddle, Collete became a science ambassador carrying the STEM message to middle and high schools. She used her passion for racing to get students’ attention and urge them — especially the girls — to explore careers in the sciences.
“At 16 when I was in school for engineering speaking to middle-school kids about STEM education and careers, my eyes were really opened to just how capable these kids are, and how motivated they could be if we gave them an educational system that not only taught them, but engaged them, inspired them, and motivated them to pursue these fields and take a real interest,” Collete said, “I was lucky enough that I had the sport of karting enter my life where I got all of the hands on experience and excitement that related to STEM for me at a young age. Not all kids get those opportunities or even know they exist.”
Her experiences in speaking to students and studying engineering led Collete to Draper University where she will start her studies in April. Located in Silicon Valley, Draper University of Heroes describes itself as: “the brainchild of free-spirited venture capitalist Tim Draper, aka ‘The Riskmaster.’ We are an unconventional world-class boarding school for the brightest young entrepreneurs from around the world. We built this school because the world needs more heroes.” Every Draper student starts a company during his or her time at the school. (Read more about Draper University here.)
“My goal is to create a company in the innovative STEM education space for K-12,” Collete said. “It’s going to heavily involve a major racing partnership, and kick off with a national competition. Overtime, the vision is to expand into many different areas of innovative education approaches. My mission is to revolutionize the way STEM education is influenced, taught, experienced, and encouraged in K-12 grades and beyond, especially with our girls! STEM promotion and representation has always been a huge part of my brand and my professional racing aspirations pair perfectly as a catalyst to endorse my cause. I couldn’t be more passionate about the two.”
Collete’s efforts coincide with a growing national awareness of the need for more effective education in STEM fields. Experts predict U.S. growth in STEM-related jobs will outpace other fields in the foreseeable future.
According to a study by the U.S. Department of Commerce:
In 2010, 1 out of every 18 jobs (for a total of 7.6 million jobs) was in a STEM field.
Jobs in STEM fields will grow 17% between 2008 and 2018, compared to 9.8% growth in non-STEM jobs over the same period.
People with STEM-related degrees earn more than those without STEM-related degrees, even if they don’t work in STEM fields.
“The US is so behind on innovative, effective education approaches and it’s definitely showing in international rankings. Even the government is taking note now to promote innovation in these educational spaces. These kids are our future, and we should be helping create the future engineers, creators, and top innovators of the world, not holding them back.”
Racing is Rolling STEM
Few other sports combine so many elements of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math than racing. The presence of the automobile in the sport creates a STEM bonanza. Everyone from car mechanics to team engineers and drivers apply at least some science to their job.
That makes it an ideal sport for science-oriented people like Collete, and a dynamic visual aid that crushes the stereotype of all science jobs involving lab coats and theoretical research.
On the racing front, on March 1 Collete tested with Team USA, which competes in the open-wheel Panam GP. (Read more here.)
“I didn’t get the full test day as we were planning because it took a bit longer than expected to make my seat. I’m a lot smaller than most drivers,” she said. “By the time we had the seat ready to go, I only had time to go out for 2 short stints… after being out of a formula car for almost a year. But I’ve never caught onto a car so fast before. I think I found a new love for European open-wheel race cars.
“Honestly, one of the biggest things was just getting use to how nice the car was… the brakes, the added downforce, handling, etc. The car could take so much more than I was use to, so that was an exciting adjustment. By the last couple laps of my second stint, I was feeling a lot more comfortable and was able to start pushing the car a bit. Was only out long enough to get my feet wet, but already felt like I could jump back in and start really pushing the car immediately. It felt fantastic!”
If things come together and the team can work in more testing, Collete could race for Team USA in the season opener at Miami Homestead on April 6 and 7. Meanwhile she’ll continue working on her entrepreneurial vision of encouraging students to grab the world by its STEM.