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500 Festival Princess races into STEM education

Mar 30, 2021
A woman in a crown and a boy look at a toy race car
A woman in a crown and a boy look at a toy race car

KOKOMO, Ind. — As a high school student struggling with algebra, Janae Quinn thought math was too hard for her to understand.

With help from an outstanding math teacher, not only did she begin to understand it, but she also started to enjoy it. Now, she’s earning a minor in mathematics, along with her education major at Indiana University Kokomo, with plans to show future students — especially girls — that math can be fun.

She’s getting a head start on that mission, leading fun Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) activities as part of her outreach as an Indianapolis 500 Festival princess.

“Young girls, especially with STEM, develop the idea that they aren’t good at math, or other related fields,” she said. “If I can be that teacher who shows them you can do this, that’s when they start to believe in themselves to do it. I want to be the teacher who encourages those students.”

She hopes more girls will follow her example and choose a STEM related major or minor in college.

“My heart lies with STEM, and we don’t see many young girls in these careers, especially in racing,” said Quinn, from Russiaville. “If I can share my love of racing and my love of STEM, and give children a look into engineering, math, and sciences, it would mean a lot to me.”

Quinn is one of 33 college women selected to be a 500 Festival Princess, representing 16 Indiana colleges and universities, and 21 cities and towns statewide. Each one will receive a $1,000 scholarship.

She’s visited elementary classrooms and local Girl Scout troops so far, leading them through designing and building race cars out of vegetables. Then, they qualify and race their creations.

“We talk about the engineering and design process, to determine what our problem is, and what we are going to do to solve it,” she said. “We have to reflect and ask ourselves how we can improve and make our design better. I was very impressed with the children’s designs.”

She also incorporates Indianapolis 500 history and other racing elements in the lesson, noting that she was able to use some of her outreach plans in a lesson plan for her social studies education class.

The community outreaches she plans and implements are giving Quinn, a junior, teaching experience that will be valuable when she begins her career. She hopes to teach in a Kokomo-area school when she graduates in 2022, and especially enjoys working with older elementary school children.

The community service aspect is what attracted her to apply for the festival program. In addition to her STEM workshops, she’s also packed more than 500 kid-friendly nutritious meals as a Buddy Bags volunteer, knowing the importance of eating healthy food.

“Any service I can do to help my community is important to me,” she said.

She and the other 32 princesses participate in a virtual leadership development program, and will be paired with mentors from the 500 Festival board of directors.

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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