Project Raceway? “ShopGirls” Create Their Own Eco-Marathon Reality

draper uUpdate Apr. 7, 2015 Now this is what I’m talking about! Our hometown entrepreneurial hub for startups, Draper University is ‘going Hollywood’ next week as ABC begins filming a new ‘reality TV’ series called “Startup U” to capture the challenging environs of Silicon Valley dreamers and doers out to achieve their concept to completion ideation. Now…“What If” this series were to take off and we could then segment out specific ‘themes’ like they did in the Survivor series, to task teams to create apps and solutions and new business ideas that benefit humanity and solve big lens problems rather than fluff-n-stuff dating apps du jour for cash-n-flash?

This could be a very cool model to scale solutions with the “best and the brightest” creating profitable companies and media that matters in one fell swoop! Entertainment and business development meets social good and hackathons for a “triple pundit” bottom line…? Think on it, folks. 

Original Post About ShopGirls Eco Car Team: Apr. 11, 2011

shopgirls aifestivalWill 2011 be the year ‘Reality TV’ dies? (MSNBC asks) I just finished Jenn Pozner’s Reality Bites Back media commentary over spring break, reeling at the snark tank of inauthentic mediocrity that’s become a genre all its own.

But it got me thinking…is it the formula or the content?

What if we created ‘reality shows’ to race, compete, and actually improve our collective IQ instead of devolving it with cheaply produced, sensationalized, faux shows trashing psyches with shame and blame as the name of the game?

What if we ditched appearance-based cues and instead fueled students’ innovation to spark solutions, create resourceful role models (like a ‘female MacGyver’) all while tanking up their self-worth through inspiring, purposeful productivity?

What if we shifted the media lens away from the Snooki, DWTS, Idol, formulaic fame toward models for sustainability and eco-green machines that literally create a whole new energy for the planet?

Need a STEM/fem prototype?

Shaping Youth is a proud sponsor for the second year in a row of The ShopGirls, an all-girl teen team of mold-breaking, stereotype shattering, diesel-engine tweaking builders, creators and race car engineers from Granite Falls, WA competing in this week’s Shell Eco Marathon to drive the point home about fuel efficiency. (and hopefully break a vehicle record aiming for 678 mpg, 100mpg over the current ’09 record– far beyond any glide and ride homemade gizmo)

Evidently, Shell’s been doling out cash prizes for 26 years inspiring students to see whose handmade vehicles can go the farthest on the least amount of fuel…

But I’d only heard about the Eco-Marathon in ’09/’10 when the ShopGirls came to my attention as the first ever all-girl team building their rig from scratch. (not even sure HOW I first heard of them, could’ve been our She’s Geeky conference, supporting STEM career paths, or could be Women in Tech, Girls in Tech, Anita Borg Institute)

That green-n-pink ‘blur’ above is the girls’ entry, Iron Maiden, whizzing by in a practice lap one Saturday morning (the girls get to school at 6:30 daily and work after school twice a week and often on weekends…gearing up for the big race THIS weekend April 14-17 in Houston!)

Pit crews, walkie talkies, 31 college teams and 18 high school teams will descend upon the Eco-Marathon which is being upheld as a model for CTE, “career and technical education” which their dedicated instructor Michael Werner calls “real world, hands on.”  (experiential learning at its finest, imho)

Last year, after a grueling ‘back to the drawing board’ process among the teens, (from brakes and design symmetry to materials calculations and wind velocity/physics aerodynamics) the Iron Maiden placed number ONE in their energy class category (diesel vehicles) and third in safety out of 42 teams competing.

This fall, when I received a note from them with a photo of the team alongside their car and later, a holiday ornament of a wooden car cut out with a ‘would you consider sponsoring us again’ appeal, I can honestly say, the personal, face to face heartfelt pride of their accomplishment was palpable and I didn’t bat an eyelash as I grabbed my personal checkbook…

I can’t afford NOT to sponsor this kind of enthusiasm and cyclebreaking groundswell of bold, beautiful tenacity.

It takes much more than engineering finesse and attention to detail to improve on lap/fuel efficiency though, as they explained,

“Originally we had mechanical brakes on the front and basically, in order to get them to work well enough to meet Shell rules, we had to tighten them to the point where they were actually dragging on the brake discs all the time,” said Shante Stowell, 18, a senior. “Now we’re going to use hydraulic ones and they’re not going to drag and will only touch the brake discs if we’re actually braking.”

Five of last year’s six girls on the team are returning, and I can’t wait to hear their own trials and tribulations post-race once I interview them after their Houston run this coming weekend, far beyond the technology aspects and leading edge gender breakthroughs…

Just reading through examples like 15-year old Semira Kern’s candid confession below makes me realize my own daughter who’s more ‘hands-on’ versus bookish in the math/science realm would’ve benefited greatly from a program like this.

My teen would LOVE the chance to ‘do’ rather than rote page-flipping formulas which makes her eyes glass over and her mind go numb and tune out. She’s a natural engineer helping her dad with sports bracing or medical orthotics lab gear but zones and gets ‘giveupitis’ when it comes to ‘teach to the test’ style formulas and equations.

I’m sure she could relate to Semira, (at left w/teacher Michael Werner) who said:

“Sometimes you get up at 5:30 so you can be here by 6:30 and you have to redo something that you spent hours working on,” (she  recently had to remake a steering stop she built because the pieces were too thin)…

…”You think, ‘I don’t want to be here anymore,’ and then it’s just reminding yourself that it’s worth it. Going to the race is worth all the hard work and getting through setbacks.”

She added,  “Math wasn’t my best subject but I’ve gotten better since I’ve started high school, and I think this program has probably helped…Instead of just finding the circumference, it’s actually knowing the circumference and then working backwards to find the radius so we can make a wheel cover and it will fit perfectly.”

I’m serious about pitching hands-on challenges like this to Hollywood for ‘media that matters’ and reversing the cycle of “reality TV” to uphold the REAL achievements of youth. This kind of experiential, hands-on learning is ‘Discovery Channel’ meets MTV Act if it were properly produced instead of amplified in reality show parlance.

Geena Davis, one of my favorite media change agents tackling gender bias from within the entertainment industry, has a fresh new interview in the WSJ today called “Life Imitates Art” about the powerful impact of media influence on kids’ identity. It begs the chicken and egg question:

What do we want our own ‘reality show’ to look like?

Are we as a nation merely reflecting and mirroring toxic media moments or are we in fact creating, producing, and replicating it for commercial consumption?

I can’t help but think our world would be a much more pleasant place if our media lens focused more on accomplishments like ShopGirls or their counterpart co-ed “car concept” team UrbanAutos to literally challenge youth to come up with REAL inventions and REAL solutions to our cultural conundrums…

Youth could bring ‘dare to dream’ idealism into the staid cynicism of adult snoredom that continues to green light the same formulaic media road we’ve tread umpteen times.

What if we give YOUTH the wheel for positive change?

Give ‘em license to thrill in their own ‘reality show’ race to improve humanity. Project Lunch? Project Green Prom?

How about a “ShopGirls” TV show? (“Building A Better Tomorrow”?!)

Or a reality riff like, “So You Think You Can Teach” (Students Tackle Education Reform–that could be a hoot and enlightening too) …

“America’s Next Top Model Of Sustainability“…er, um…”16 & Savvy” (change agents/entrepreneurs, youth leaders/heroes) …

Just think, if we swapped dramarama hypefests and outrageousness for meaningful media and marketing ‘reality shows’ that challenge us to benefit humanity, ultimately we’d ALL win.

Hmn…cogs are turning. Not sure if I want to apply the brakes any time soon; might let these media ideas glide awhile.

Meanwhile, Good luck, ShopGirls! So proud of your Iron Maiden hand-built feat…I have the perfect congratulations tee that I’ll have to snag from after the Shell Eco Marathon this weekend.It’s a racecar driver with the caption, “I drive like a girl.”

Visual Credits: All photos of The ShopGirls courtesy of Harley Soltes, National Geographic, from National Geographic News per the links above.

Related Resources for STEM fields & CTE pathways

WISE women (WISE=”women into science/engineering”) (part of GSA)

Brain Cake
Engineer Girl
Girl Geeks

Girls Are IT!
The Alice Project

Female Science Professor Blogspot

Wise Women–WISE Girls

Inspirational Women from WISE

Center for WIT (Women & Information Technology)
Nasa Quest: Women of NASA

Women in Engineering Org

Women’s Work (online community for middleschool girls)’s Teen Link Love

Science Friday podcasts. Brought to you by NPR.

10 commandments of Being a Geeky Girl in Geeky Guy World

Nerd Girls – We are a growing, global movement which celebrates smart-girl individuality that’s revolutionizing our future.

Mind Candy Clothing – cute tees that let you show the world how much you love math and science! This just in: They have a sparkly BRAINCAKE tee!  Order yours today and show the world you’re a BrainCake girl!

Justine Magazine – an awesome magazine for “teens – real teens – just teens”

Instructables – the “World’s Biggest Show & Tell where people share what they do and how they do it.”

New Scientist – A great source for science news and science articles

Girl Power Fiction and Nonfiction Reading Lists – These great titles show that girls can accomplish anything.

Engineer Your Life – An awesome site for high school girls and the adults in their lives (parents, counselors, teachers, and other educators) who want to learn more about what life and work are like for engineers.

GMSP: The Girls, Math & Science Partnership…“A program of Carnegie Science Center,  conducts research in order to inform its work – whether it is creating this Web site or the most innovative programs for girls possible.”

Update: June 29, 2011 Check out this snazzy new photo of The ShopGirls from Granite Falls High School recruiting new teams at the Aspen Ideas Festival!

Looks like they had a ‘project makeover’ media and marketing brandwash to spiff up in full eco-color-coordinated regalia. Fabulous example of grassroots project taking hold via corporate social enterprise and hopefully emerging into full-blown “changemakers” Ashoka style!

Here’s to even more growth and success ongoing!




  1. hi, I’ve just found your website via Pigtail Pals on facebook. I’d like to keep informed of new posts, but I don’t use twitter…Do you have a facebook page I could subscribe to? Sorry for posting my question here, but I also couldn’t find an email address or contact section on your page. Many thanks, your site looks great. Lorri (from Australia)

  2. Lorri, thanks for stopping by, you are absolutely right, I’m in ‘expansion mode’ for the website and haven’t made it easy to navigate/find my data.

    You can always email me (amy at shapingyouth dot org) and I’m probably the last Facebook ‘holdout’ in terms of a “fan page” to “like” but feel free to ‘friend me’ on my personal page under Amy Jussel (any pal of Melissa’s is a friend of mine 😉

    I DO admittedly spend most of my time on Twitter as a platform these days (@ShapingYouth) so am easy to find there too…and you can always use the old RSS subscription to plop new posts in your inbox too. Here’s a sneak peek at the site expansion coming soon. (long overdue, I realize!) See link below! Thanks again for taking the time to comment and hunt me down.

  3. Amy,

    I listened to an interview with this team on NPR today–I can’t wait to hear how they perform. And I love the idea of co-opting reality TV to celebrate the power of youth and youth ideas. Thanks for supporting them in such a tangible way.


  4. OOOH! Do you have the link, Ann? I’m off site in Reno and sketchy wireless feeds etc so would love to snag it to listen to and bring me some joy…they’re determined to make their mark one way or the other…love em! I’ll be doing a post-race follow up piece too…and am following the Urban Autos concept cars too…all little Pixar looking cartoony critters 😉 (some sleek prototypes too, just love the innovation of the teens universally!) Eager to hear more, I’ve been trying to get live tweets from the @shell_ecomar feed…


    ShopGirls and UrbanAutos – News Blitz

    After a lot of overtime to get ready and last minute scrambling both teams competed very successful in the 2011 Shell Eco-marathon in Houston, Texas.

    * UrbanAutos with their much improved and carbon fiber enhanced car won the Urban Concept Car Diesel category and now hold a new Americas record with 186.5MPG

    The ShopGirls won the 1st place Safety Award and

      placed 2nd in the prototype diesel category with 378MPG,

    short of their goal due to “technical gremlins”.

    Look at our updated website for more info and latest media coverage. In early June we will have a CTE/Eco Car program open house and appreciation afternoon – stay tuned for details

    Michael Werner
    Manufacturing Instructor
    Granite Falls High School

Speak Your Mind