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GIRL POWER GOES GREEN

11 February 2021

Author: The Greenpower Team

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The Greenpower Challenge is a potent testbed for breeding creativity and innovation, helping to break down stereotypes around STEM careers. By engaging young people in a practical, yet exciting and hands-on challenge, it sparks something in them better than any textbook can.

The Truro High School for Girls in Cornwall has participated in the challenge since 2009, and in 2019 the school became the first in the UK to be officially recognised as a club by Motorsport UK. Boasting a fleet of five cars - plus three Goblins in their Prep school - the Greenpower engineering club consists of over 30 girls between the ages of 11 and 18, all with a common passion for STEM.

A group of hardworking, driven youngsters, the team is encouraged to be highly innovative when designing, building, and ultimately racing their electric race cars. In the past this has led to a number of creatively constructed solar-powered vehicles. However, the team is currently in the midst of an even more exciting and daring endeavour.

Discontent with the sustainability of the materials used to manufacture their race cars, the team decided to take on the mammoth task of building a fully functional F24 concept car made predominantly out of bamboo.

An eco-friendly alternative to carbon fibre or steel, bamboo is incredibly strong, yet light, ideal to create the structural integrity of the sustainable racer. Using jean material as binding – yes, jeans! – the bamboo car will weigh no more than 30kg, an impressive feat considering it will house two 12-volt electric batteries.

The project is still to be finished, with the initial completion target of February 2021 pushed back due to the national lockdown and closure of schools. Nonetheless, the task of building the bamboo car has been beneficial to the team. It has improved their engineering and problem-solving skills extensively, as well as increasing their awareness of environmental issues and how they can be combatted.

However, it is not only their environmental endeavours that are to be admired, it is also the team’s ethos and attitude towards the Greenpower Challenge.

The first all-girls school to win in the F24 category, and a three-time recipient of the Spirit of Greenpower award, the Truro High School for Girls strives to put education and inclusion above all else. Although winning is certainly enjoyable, the staff who run the engineering club ensure that the learning of the engineering process and the acquisition of skills takes precedence throughout the project. This has led to the development of a number of budding young female engineers, some of whom have been invited to undertake work experience at local engineering companies, as well as Williams F1.

They also understand that the main reason the students take part in the competition is to have fun and be a part of a close-knit community. There is always a feel of togetherness within the team.

Jon Dean, a member of staff who has run the school’s engineering club for a number of years said: “I am so privileged to be working with a group of girls who can work hard together as a team to solve problems and take responsibility for engineering and design ideas. They want to also look at environmental issues and sustainability which is where this bamboo car concept has come from.”

There is no denying the STEM sector, like many industries, faces a diversity problem. Despite offering a wealth of career opportunities, only 12.3% of all engineers in the UK in 2018 were women (Women’s Engineering Society), and just 7.8% of engineers were from BAME backgrounds. These are unsatisfactory figures.

The Greenpower challenge aims to break down some of the barriers to entry, by instilling a love for STEM in young people at an age where they begin to make important choices with their education and careers. Our participants engage with a wide breadth of STEM activities in a fun, practical way.

As a group of young women making strides in constructing environmentally friendly race cars, the Greenpower team from the Truro High School for Girls certainly represent a promising future for the industry.