Washington Middle School duo wins statewide flight competition

Their mentors hope that events like this will pave the way for more women to enter the field of STEM
Published: Jun. 14, 2022 at 6:50 PM EDT
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CALUMET, Mich. (WLUC) - Two sixth-grade girls Calumet’s Washington Middle School won big in a flight competition.

Their names are Jordan Hicks and Kristen Ylitalo, and they’ve recently won first place in the “Michigan Girls Flight Challenge.” It’s a new event hosted by the Women of Aerospace Industry Association of Michigan (WAIAM).

“They were asked to design a prototype, come up with a business plan, do the marketing, and a whole host of other requirements,” said Calumet Electronics R&D Managing Engineer and Mentor Audra Thurston.

Along with Dr. Meredith LaBeau, Thurston acted as a mentor for the duo.

“I had the privilege of getting to hear the girls’ ideas and working with them,” continued Thurston. “And also giving them some information about what it’s like to be a woman in aerospace.”

The goal was to create a sustainable device for flight that solves a problem. This turned out to be an issue for the team.

“We could find problems, but didn’t know how to use air to solve it,” said Hicks and Ylitalo. “Using something that goes on the ground is much easier.”

However, they eventually came up with the idea of a smoke-sensitive drone to alert first responders.

“There’s a smoke detector on the top of the drone, and then there was a camera on the bottom,” continued Hicks and Ylitalo. “It would detect the smoke that rises up in the air and it would alert the firefighters,”

With a lack of materials available to them, the duo decided to take a different approach with their prototype.

“We had 3D printers at the school, and we didn’t really want to recycle because we didn’t have the time, or how to, so we 3D printed at our school,” added Hicks and Ylitalo.

Thurston hopes this helps pave the way for more women to enter the field.

“This competition was really important to just expose girls to what kind of jobs are out there. Also, connecting girls to mentors who they can lean on throughout their school career,” Thurston said.

The duo plan on participating again next year if the event continues.

To learn more about WAIAM, click here.

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