Title: Women Leading the Solar Car Racing Revolution: Breaking Gender Barriers in STEM
Despite evidence showing that girls are outperforming boys in school classrooms worldwide and are just as likely, if not more likely, to pursue higher education, women continue to face significant underrepresentation in tertiary science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. This gender gap becomes more pronounced in employment as countries become more developed. Even in educational settings, women are outnumbered by their male counterparts in engineering programs. The underrepresentation of women extends to other domains, such as solar car racing teams, where women are also a minority, even in roles unrelated to engineering.
Nevertheless, women have made significant strides in taking up important roles in leading solar car teams. Cosmos caught up with some of these remarkable women – Andrea Holden, Alinda Dersjant, Annelies De Geeter, Jessica Bos, and Bonnie Zhu – to gain insights into their contributions and how they are helping their teams compete for victory.
Andrea Holden – Team Manager, Sunswift Racing (Australia):
Andrea Holden fills the position of Team Manager at Sunswift Racing. She initially played a crucial role in coordinating and overseeing the build of Sunswift 7, but her responsibilities have gradually shifted to different areas within the team. Holden highlights the evolution of the team’s functioning and the integral role she has played in structuring its leadership team.
Alinda Dersjant – Technical Manager, Brunel (Netherlands):
Alinda Dersjant serves as the Technical Manager at Brunel. In her role, she is responsible for ensuring that the solar car is completed within the designated timeframe while maximizing the team’s budget. Dersjant, originally a chemistry major, pursued a master’s degree in sustainable energy technology to transition into an engineering-related field.
Annelies De Geeter – Strategist, Innoptus (Belgium):
Annelies De Geeter, a computer scientist, assumes the role of a strategist at Innoptus. She utilizes weather data to simulate and analyze the upcoming race route, incorporating factors such as heading, slope, and other environmental conditions into the team’s strategy. De Geeter emphasizes the importance of combining simulations with critical thinking to make informed decisions.
Jessica Bos – Operations Manager, Solar Team Twente (Netherlands):
Jessica Bos, initially a lead engineer, transitioned to the role of Operations Manager at Solar Team Twente. Bos’s responsibilities encompass logistical aspects, including preparing for international competitions, organizing transportation and accommodation, and ensuring the smooth functioning of the team’s camp during the race.
Bonnie Zhu – Head Marketing Specialist, University of Michigan (USA):
Bonnie Zhu, a communications major, holds the position of Head Marketing Specialist for the University of Michigan Solar Car Team. Zhu and her team handle a wide range of marketing tasks, including social media management, content creation, photography, and videography. She stresses the importance of corporate sponsorships and effective marketing in generating support and spreading awareness about their solar car program.
The underrepresentation of women in STEM fields, particularly in solar car racing and related roles, remains a significant challenge. However, the stories of Andrea Holden, Alinda Dersjant, Annelies De Geeter, Jessica Bos, and Bonnie Zhu reflect the increasing presence of capable and determined women who are breaking barriers and playing critical roles in leading solar car teams. Their involvement not only challenges gender stereotypes but also contributes to the advancement of renewable energy technologies and the broader field of STEM. By amplifying their achievements and highlighting their experiences, we can inspire more young women to pursue careers in STEM and participate in groundbreaking projects like solar car racing.