For the last two seasons, I have been a volunteer business mentor for The Iron Angels, the first all-female team in BUILD, a non-profit organization that I am very passionate about. BUILD Moto challenges high school teams to work with mentors to turn a vintage motorcycle into a qualified race bike in just six months. The students are provided supplies such as the chassis and engine, but the rest relies on the students to design, fix, modify, and rebuild for the race all while staying within budget.
Along with the technical side and building their bike, teams manage their own Instagram account, fundraise money for their bike, and keep track of their budget and spend. The Iron Angels are mentored by myself and other women who are knowledgeable and experienced with motorcycles. This not only helps with the technical side, but it inspires the students to dive in and get their hands dirty.
As mentors, one of our goals is to give our students an interactive way to introduce a variety of engineering, manufacturing, and technical careers throughout the bike build season, making sure we are not just teaching the “hows” but also the “whys.” Most of the focus may be on the technical bike assembly, but we believe it’s crucial for the team to learn how to investigate and problem solve. To do this, our mentors bring in experts specializing in different areas to encourage everyone on the team to participate from start to finish and be exposed to different career paths.
This season, the BUILD teams received a barn bike that had to transition into a flat track racer. To start, we did a complete teardown and took inventory on parts that could be reused or needed to be replaced. Next, we prepped the chassis (first by cleaning out mice nests!), then we could powder coat the bike which is always a fun experience.
Once we got the parts back, we could then start putting it back together. Like we found last year, some parts need to be manufactured and modified in order to continue building. BUILD partners with MATC (Milwaukee Area Technical College) to help with these situations, but this year we added an extra step. We brought in Cami Florence from Fisher Unitech to give the team a demo of SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD software and how it can be used to design the part we needed. One team member worked with Cami to design the part in SOLIDWORKS and then created a dimensioned drawing that we could take with us to MATC so they could produce the physical part.
This was the first year we put those two tasks together, and the resulting “ah-ha” moments are truly the best moments as a mentor because the students get to actually see their design get turned into a physical part for the build. With the help of our partnerships, we are able to bring in additional experts to help with the rest of the bike build and design. We learned how to MIG weld this year, build our own seat pan, learned how motorcycle seats are manufactured, how to lace (and balance) spokes on the wheels, and even took pinstriping lessons! Our team is very fortunate to have the involvement of all of our sponsors and experts who are willing to donate time to teach these lessons.
We participate in several events throughout the season, and we love to hear other motorcycle enthusiasts ask us about our bike! Our first event of the season is usually Bike Night at Iron Horse Hotel. All the teams showcase their bikes (which are hopefully running at this point) and hold a competition for the People’s Choice Awards. Everyone is welcome (including you!) to check out the bikes, ask questions, and vote for their favorite. The students at this point have spent five months learning about motorcycles, so this is a great opportunity to learn about the program and talk to the students.
Racing at Beaver Dam Cycle Club
Another event we get to participate in is the BUILD race at Beaver Dam Cycle Club in Burnett, WI. The teams compete in a “pit crew” challenge, which often includes changing the oil, removing and replacing a wheel, all while maintaining AMA race standards. Then we get to race! Seeing the excitement on the girls’ faces when all of their hard work is now out on the tracks among other bikes is amazing!
The finale is held at the Brewtown Rumble in downtown Milwaukee, a vintage bike show where the culmination of all the teams’ hard work pays off. There’s a Judges Choice award followed by the BUILD cup, awarded to the team who collected the most points throughout the season by hitting milestones and placing well during competitions.
Volunteering my time to BUILD Moto has taught me a lot about the technical side, and I can only hope I am impacting students’ lives just as much. There are so many ways to teach and engage with high school students to give them invaluable and fun experiences.
The Iron Angels look forward to continuing to expose students to as many opportunities as we can to hopefully capture their interest in STEAM (Science. Technology. Engineering. Art. Mathematics) and technical roles in a way that will be fulfilling for years to come. Seeing how much the students learn and build their self-confidence over the season is why I love being part of this program! Be sure to check out our webpage, Instagram, Facebook, and the BUILD Moto page for updates on our team and upcoming events we’d love to see you at!
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About the Author
Corrine Wolff is a Senior Product Quality Engineer at Rockwell Automation. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and recently graduated with a Master’s degree in Business Administration. Corrine has been very active in SWE, and her passion for motorcycles has driven her to be an active mentor in the BUILD program. The 2020 season starting in January will be Corrine’s third year as a BUILD mentor, and the Iron Angels’ third year participating.