Being a woman in a male-dominated field is nothing new to 20-year-old Hailie Deegan, who has had to work harder than her peers to earn respect as part of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Now, as she nears the end of her second season as a full-time driver for Ford Performance, she is encouraging teen girls to help level the playing field in another male-dominated area: engineering.
“I wish I had taken some college courses because it would’ve made it easier for me to learn about the engineering side of racing,” Deegan said via video conference to a group of 25 incoming ninth-graders from the Detroit area who were gathered at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti Township, Michigan. “You’re always learning in the racing world. You’re always around watching people build cars and developing parts. There’s a lot that goes into engineering on the racing side. I’ve learned so much just from being around it.”
The group, part of the Girls in Engineering Academy, has been introduced to the real-world applications of the engineering field by the Ford Performance team over the past four weeks. The group has participated in workshops in engineering, mathematics, computer science and communications skills. They have also received hands-on experience through engineering projects, field trips to engineering facilities and other STEM-related locations. Program leaders included female engineering students.
The Engineering Society of Detroit established the academy to increase girls' interest in engineering and related professions. It also aims to help them excel in STEM-related areas – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – and ultimately help decrease the gender gap in engineering professions.
The Ford Performance team organized several days of in-person and virtual programming, including guest speakers from a wide range of Ford engineering leaders in areas such as electrification, aerodynamics and off-roading, as well as Ford Performance drivers including Deegan, Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Shelby Hall.
The group’s field trips have included visits to The Henry Ford and Dearborn Truck Plant. They also experienced Ford GT and Bronco Raptor walkarounds led by the respective vehicle program leads.
“I really enjoyed working with employees in other departments to create a program that showed these girls just how many different areas of engineering our work at Ford actually involves,” said Megan Jones, Ford Performance marketing communications manager. “They are at a critical point in their academic careers where they still have time to decide which specific path they want to pursue. We wanted to introduce them to as many different departments and opportunities within Ford as we possibly could in these four weeks.”
Jones enjoyed seeing how engaged the students were with each speaker and how specific topics resonated with some students. “They had great questions for our speakers and really enjoyed the activities and field trips we were able to facilitate,” she said. “I am thankful to have been a part of the program this year – it is exciting to see young girls interested in engineering.”
The program concludes this weekend with a field trip to Michigan International Speedway for the FireKeepers Casino 400. The girls will see Ford Performance in action, as Ford goes for an eighth straight NASCAR Cup Series victory at its home track. The race begins at 3 p.m. and can be seen on the USA Network and Peacock.