WEST CHICAGO – For Girl Scouts Jacquelyn Butler and Emily Carroso, it's all about the power tools.
When they're working with a drill and they hear that loud buzz, there's only one way to describe it.
"Awesome," said Jacquelyn, 13, who lives in Winfield.
The West Chicago Girl Scout Troop 50386 members are participating this summer in ComEd's first Icebox Derby, an effort to encourage girls' passions in science, technology, engineering and math by having them team up to transform recycled refrigerators into race cars.
The project provides plenty of opportunities for the girls to roll up their sleeves, get their hands a little dirty and try out the power tools that are typically reserved for their dads' workbenches.
According to data provided by ComEd, women hold only 24 percent of STEM jobs in the United States. The energy company, with a female president and CEO at its helm, hopes to prepare more young girls to join that workforce.
"Hopefully we're developing more future innovators," said Michelle Blaise, senior vice president of ComEd technical services.
For the project, ComEd partnered with the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, Girls 4 Science and the Chicago Urban League. The 31 participants, aged 13 to 18 years old, come from these three organizations and had to apply for the program by writing an essay explaining why they were interested in it.
Jacquelyn and Emily, 13, both enjoy STEM subjects in school and could see themselves pursuing a career in the field.
In the fall, the scouts will be eighth-graders at Leman Middle School in West Chicago, where they each have taken a special technology class as part of their seventh-grade curriculum.
While West Chicago resident Emily hopes to turn another one of her passions – performing in musicals – into a career as an actress, she would be interested in using her love for math in a future job too.
Jacquelyn wants to one day be a chemist or physicist.
The Girl Scout was recently one of only three girls to take a class in app creation at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. The course included about 30 boys.
Together with Emily, she hopes to show other girls there are possibilities for them in the world of math and science, which is typically advertised more to boys.
"If you think of mechanics, a lot of people automatically think of 'boy,'" Emily said.
Jacquelyn's mom, Rita, wants girls to see that they can pursue STEM careers too.
"It's not something that girls traditionally look at," she said. "They need to start thinking outside the box."
Participants in the derby are divided into six teams, and as they work to build their racecars with their teammates, Jacquelyn and Emily find themselves appyling concepts they've learned in class to this hands-on project.
Each week, they have to tackle a different part of building their race car with the help of ComEd employees who serve as mentors.
Once the icebox cars are built, the teams will race Aug. 23 at the Field Museum in Chicago. Each girl will drive her team's car around the track, and between laps, the teams will have to complete a challenge before the next girl gets to drive.
While the winning team will receive a special, undisclosed prize, every participant is awarded a $1,000 college scholarship.
The teams also use social media to try to earn extra items for their cars each week, from racing gloves to a spoiler.
On social media, community members are able to "empower" the teams by mentioning them in a post. The more people who empower a team, the closer that team is to earning that week's speciality item.
Blaise hopes the Icebox Derby will help to empower the girls in more ways than one by taking their interests in science and technology and unleashing their inner talents in those fields.
"I think it's great for their self-esteem and self-confidence," said Emily's mom, Debbie. "I think being in STEM and having a self-confidence in that kind of area will just open them up to so many more career choices."
The Icebox Derby already seems to be making a difference for its participants, even through something as small as using a drill.
"One of my friends said she liked the drill because it made her feel powerful," Jacquelyn said.
How to help
Go to www.theiceboxderby.com to learn how to empower Emily's team, Pink Venom, or Jacquelyn's team, Nerds of Steel.