Einstein students treated to STEM education — Mazda style

e-Connections Post

Editor’s note: The following article is one in an occasional series by SCUSD Career Technical Education Coordinator Joe Stymeist.

Albert Einstein Middle School students recently spent an afternoon with the Mazda Racing Accelerates Creative Education (RACE) team.

RACE is an interactive learning experience aimed at engaging and motivating middle and high school students to take an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

In addition to a powerful, fully illustrated interactive presentation, the team brought SKYACTIV-D Clean Diesel Prototype Racecar sporting decals with the names of Einstein administrators.

All students were given informational postcards and encouraged to get autographs from Mazda’s racecar driver and to have pictures taken in front of the car. Mazda’s RACE team plans on visiting only a dozen schools this year making this visit to Einstein a very special occasion. 

About 720 students filed into the gymnasium to participate in a fun and interactive presentation. “Who makes the best french fries?” was a question posed by presenter, John Doonan, Director of Mazda Motorsports, after displaying a series of chemistry formulas on a 50-foot projection screen.

This was his approach for emphasizing the “s” for science in the acronym STEM. After much applause for McDonald’s, Burger King and In & Out fries, students were informed that the grease used to make their favorite fries is recycled and converted into environmentally friendly biodiesel fuel, just like the type used in Mazda’s racecars.

As the presentation progressed, Doonan talked about the “t” in STEM as he revealed that of the technology found in today’s modern vehicles — from sensors that monitor all aspects of your engine to the ones that track the air pressure in your tires — were first developed and tested on the racetrack. 

Doonan then took a break from the presentation to interview a newly hired Mazda Motorsports Factory Driver. When the driver walked out on stage, he was decked out in full racing gear, including a helmet. When Doonan couldn’t understand the responses to his questions, he asked the driver to remove his helmet.

Einstein students erupted in applause when they were surprised to learn the driver was Einstein Assistant Principal Michael Holt. Once the students settled down, Tom Long, the real Mazda Motorsports Factory Driver took the stage to talk about the “e” in STEM, engineering.

What followed was a demonstration of how airflow affects the stability of a racecar. As a giant fan blew air across the spoiler from a real racecar, trailing strips of colored plastic allowed the students to see turbulence turn into a controlled airflow as the angle of attack was varied.

Long explained that the airflow over the spoiler allows the car to travel at very fast speeds producing a downward force to keep the tires safely and firmly on the racetrack. He said that this force is so great that if it were possible to turn the racetrack upside down, even gravity wouldn’t break the grip of the tires, as the aerodynamics would ensure positive contact with the track.

Doonan returned to the stage to discuss the final letter in STEM. When “m” for math was presented to the students, they were asked to calculate how far a racecar could travel in one second at a given speed.

The answer was close to the distance of one football field. “One extra second in the pits can cost you the race,” Doonan said as he illustrated how everything in racing boils down to mathematics. 

To end his presentation, Doonan showed a slide with the words “science,” “technology,” “engineering,” and “math,” before asking his final question: “Which of these items is most important to the Mazda RACE Team?”

The answer surprised everyone when Doonan revealed it was a trick question. The final slide simply said, “People are the most important element.”

At the end of the presentation, students with an interest in STEM were encouraged to explore their educational opportunities. Because most Einstein students will be attending Rosemont High School after they leave Einstein, the lead teacher and students from the Energy, Science and Engineering Academy (ESEA) at Rosemont were invited to attend the presentation and be available to answer questions about their academy. ESEA is an exciting Linked Learning Pathway at Rosemont and a perfect match for Einstein students who are interested in pursuing STEM education.  

Inspiring students to think about careers in STEM makes sense for an engineering company like Mazda, which is seeking to employ the next generation of scientists and engineers. Even though there is some controversy about the shortage of engineers in the United States, preparing for a career in STEM fields open up incredible prospects for SCUSD students.

Skills learned in preparing for a career in science, technology, engineering and math are very transferable to other career fields. 

Thanks to Mazda’s RACE program, future scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians who attended Einstein Middle School may be able to point to that day when they decided what they wanted to be when they grew up.