May 9, 2013

Female Teens Ready for Rocket Launch Competition

Print More

(WOMENSENEWS)--Eclipse, a team of three female teenagers, is one of the 100 finalists selected from 725 national teams to compete in the 11th annual Team America Rocketry Challenge on Saturday May 11 at Great Meadow in The Plains in Virginia.

In order to win, the team needs to build a rocket that will travel 750 feet in the air within 48 to 50 seconds. A raw egg must also be placed strategically inside the rocket so that it returns unbroken.

"Most people are probably not aware that this exists," said team member Isabella Leighton. "I've had the chance to try things that most people haven't."

As freshmen at Roosevelt High School in San Antonio, Texas, which specializes in engineering and technology, Leighton and her two teammates, Ruth Long and Dalia Castillo, constructed a rocket.

Long was in charge of working on the rocket's design using computer software called RockSim. The program demonstrates how fast and how high the rocket will launch depending on various assigned measurements. Castillo and Leighton have taken these dimensions to focus on building the rocket. The whole process took the team three months.

"It's a challenge for us," Leighton said about a month ago, when the team was still assembling its rocket. "We are trying our hardest to reach our goals but are also having fun."

The team, which came in second place last year, is one of only five all-female teams in the entire competition.

"When I was in elementary school it was a little intimidating," said Long of competing predominately against males. "But now it's like 'ha, we can beat you'."

Role Model Shortage

Women are still less than 30 percent of the ranks of computer science and engineering professionals, according to the latest statistics from the National Science Foundation. This figure hasn't changed much since 1991. And the number of women who earn a bachelor's or master's degree in mathematics has been declining for the past 10 years.

The same statistics also show that women with doctorates in science, engineering or health hold less than one-fourth of all full-time professor positions in these areas.

But some of the female teens in this year's competition said these statistics don't faze them from thinking about careers in engineering, computer science, architecture or psychology.

"It just encourages us to keep going actually," said Tatevick De La Rosa, an 18-year-old from one of the other all-female teams competing this year.

De La Rosa is one of the seven female teens from a Massachusetts team called the Tekcorettes. They came together last September and are part of a program called Science Club for Girls, located in Cambridge. The program was founded in 1994 to promote female participation in the sciences.

"The group was designed so we can represent females and show it's not an all-male area," said team member Beverly Johnson.

Tekcorettes' members, who are between 14 and 18 and live in different cities of Massachusetts, will be competing all together for the first time this year.

Unlike team Eclipse, the Tekcorettes took about six months to build their rocket because of uncontrollable circumstances.

Snowstorm Delays

"This is a national competition and it's really tough if you are living in the Northeast," said De La Rosa. "We had to cancel a lot of launches because of snowstorms."

The Tekcorettes team also includes Marianna McNeil, Alyssa Wang, Jameelah Julien, Hyei-in Yoo and Dina Benayad-Cherif, as well as Meghna Marjadi who is supervising the team.

Both teams needed to raise about $5,000 to get to the competition. At moments they wondered if they would muster the money, but the funding has come through.

The Tekcorettes received some subsidies from their program but they also had to raise funds on their own to cover travel and hotel expenses.

Team Eclipse has faced similar financing challenges. Last year, members attended San Antonio's Krueger School of Applied Technologies, a middle school with a rocketry program, which covered all their costs. But now their high school doesn't have such a club.

"This year we provide our own transportation and have tried to meet all the deadlines on our own," said Leighton. "That's been really hard."

Christina Morales is the team's mentor. "These girls have worked very, very hard," she said.