Acura STEAM Connections Tour Dives Deep into ‘Cool Factor’ at CU-ICAR

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GREENVILLE, S.C. (Wednesday, Oct. 4) – Students from J.L. Mann Academy in Greenville, South Carolina, encircled Katherine Legge, snapping selfies with the race car driver and peppering her with questions about her British accent, favorite tracks and speed of the Acura NSX GT3 she co-drives in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

As the lighthearted conversation continued, one query commanded Legge’s undivided attention. “Is it hard to get into auto racing as a female?”

Legge, administering the entire context of the question, replied: “Not if you have the proper education and training, and a little bit of luck helps, too.”

Legge is passionate about generating more interest in science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math (STEAM), especially among females. She is the STEAM ambassador for the Girls Scouts of America, and regularly speaks to groups.

Women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce, according to the National Science Foundation.

“To say, ‘This is open to you. It’s a real possibility’ is cool, and you get wide-eyed looks many times,” she said. “If you open people’s minds to say, ‘You can use these subjects in a variety of ways,’ they might think that science and engineering are cool. 

“I am really hoping to change up the perception that racing is for guys, and that girls can't aspire to careers in engineering, mechanics, data, technology development, research, business and sponsorship, which are just some of the things we need more of in racing.”

Legge, the first female to compete full time in the Champ Car World Series and a two-time Indianapolis 500 competitor, and Honda Performance Development engineer Gary Karamikian were the principal presenters during the Acura STEAM Connections Tour event on the campus of Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research.

Conducted in collaboration with CU-ICAR and Clemson’s Formula SAE program, the event showcased the science, technology, engineering, arts, and math behind the Acura sports car program and university graduate and undergraduate engineering student projects.

More than 300 area middle school and high school students – and many more CU-ICAR students and faculty – toured both Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3 race cars, along with a Formula SAE race car. 

Legge and Karamikian explained the STEAM-related principles and applied metrics that propel the race cars during a formal presentation and Q&A with students in the AT&T Auditorium and during the group tours.

“There is so much happening on a daily basis with everything we do. It’s not just one thing; you can’t only look at the science component, the technology, the engineering, arts and math. It’s the culmination of it all,” Karamikian said. “We can use arts, philosophy and other methodology, and we combine that with good science and good engineering principles to move forward.”

Additionally, the CU-ICAR testing labs and design facilities, where preparations are being made for the Oct. 14 unveil of “Deep Orange 9” -- the graduate student prototype vehicle program – were open to student visitors.

“Deep Orange is an example of the right way to educate students for industry,” said Dr. Robert Prucka, CU-ICAR associate professor of automotive engineering and the Kulwicki Endowed Chair in Motorsports. “Cars are not four wheels and a steering wheel. They are a mobile electronics platform with advanced powertrains and miles of wire. They have the complexity of an airplane, and it’s tough to teach out of a textbook. You need to learn by doing. With Deep Orange, you teach them by building a vehicle.

“For young students, I explain engineering as trying to get the best solution for each case.”

The Honda/Acura STEAM Connections Tour of universities across the nation, in its second year, is organized and managed by STEAM Sports Group.