NORA NAUGHTON

Mazda revs up teens' interest in math, science and auto careers

Mazda racecar driver Joel Miller told high school students in Detroit he's a "driver at heart” but said engineering allows him to share what the company learns on the track with Mazda's product engineers.

Photo credit: MAZDA
Nora Naughton is an intern at Automotive News.
Other blogs

DETROIT -- There is one universal truth in the job market right now: STEM is hot.

STEM education -- or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math -- provides high school students with highly marketable skills, especially in the automotive industry.

With the ongoing shortage of engineers in the automotive field, Mazda Motor Corp. is heading straight to the source.

Mazda says its racing program wouldn't exist without STEM. So its new Racing Accelerates Creative Education program takes Mazda Motorsports all over the country to teach high school students about STEM career paths at Mazda Motorsports.

RACE representatives from Mazda Motorsports swung by Detroit Public Schools this week while they were in town to race in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship -- part of Detroit Grand Prix festivities this weekend.

They were accompanied by special guests Joel Miller, a Mazda racecar driver and engineer, and the new Skyactiv-D clean diesel prototype racecar.

Miller is Mazda’s obvious spokesman for the RACE program. He is the company’s only driver with a degree in engineering. But for Miller, getting involved in STEM education was just an extension of his real passion.

“I’ve always been technical, but I’m a driver at heart,” Miller said. “Engineering really comes second, but it allows me to translate what we’re doing on the track to the engineers.”

John Doonan, Mazda’s director of motorsports, said the goal of RACE is to answer the question every high school student asks -- “Do I really need to know this?”-- by telling stories that truly relate to their classroom work.

Miller and Kyle Kimball, a Mazda motorsports specialist, told the students they use equations every day to calculate and determine important competitive advantages, like how fast a pit stop needs to be.

In fact, math is so integrated into the careers at Mazda Motorsports that everyone is required to pass a math test before getting on the track or in the pits.

Mazda's Racing Accelerates Creative Education program is visiting high schools nationwide to tout STEM career paths at Mazda Motorsports.

Photo credit: MAZDA

“Math tests don’t stop after high school,” Kimball told the students at Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School on the city’s east side.

Doonan said that Mazda is looking for the next generation of engineers, but the presentation would not be just a commercial for Mazda motorsports.

He wasn’t kidding.

It was clear Tuesday morning that Mazda wanted to get these teens excited about STEM careers, whether at the automaker or somewhere else. Mazda has the added benefit of having racecars at its disposal to get the students’ blood pumping.

When the students were taken outside to get up close and personal with the Skyactiv-D clean diesel prototype racecar, the teens perked up. Miller was crowded by students who snapped pictures with him in front of the car -- even asking for his autograph.

Maybe that’s the key to building the next generation of engineers. Automakers need to find ways to get young people excited about the variety of STEM career paths out there.

Said Miller: “I want to give students a new idea or give them the drive to reach the next level.”

You can reach Nora Naughton at nnaughton@crain.com.

Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.

Or submit an online comment below. (Terms and Conditions)