The 19th annual Texas Woman’s University Edible Car Contest was underway when, without warning, tragedy struck. The vehicle constructed by the Bubble Gum Rollers, a team of four seventh-graders from Carrollton’s Harmony Science Academy, disintegrated before their eyes as one of their Oreo wheels became detached from its pretzel axle.
“Thankfully, I brought the emergency kit,” said 13-year-old Sebastian Smith, a member of the Bubble Gum Rollers. “We had hope, and we were able to fix it.”
Made from a stunning combination of a Rice Krispies Treats bar for the cabin, Oreos for wheels and Sour Patch Kids for a touch of flair, the contraption constructed by these kids was ready to hit the slope.
“Our motto is: ‘The sweet, the salty and the sour,’” they said as they approached their last trial run.
The rules are simple: The competition is open to teams of area middle and high school students, as well as those from TWU. Each team consists of four students, at least two of whom must be female. Cars are constructed from items edible to humans, and must cost less than $15 to make. The fruits of their labor then will be tested on a ramp positioned at a 20-degree incline, of which it must roll the length. Judging criteria include aerodynamics, design and, of course, speed.
The Bubble Gum Rollers was the youngest group from its school, which was attending the event for the first time this year. In addition to Sebastian, the group also consisted of team leader Maci White, 13, Emily Riley, 12, and Angel Macias, 13.
“We had about 28 students attend this year,” said Esperanza Dennis, the Harmony Science Academy groups’ instructor. “We wanted to see what the fundamentals of the competition were, so we could be even more competitive next year.”
When asked about the catastrophe just prior to the Bubble Gum Rollers’ final run, Dennis said she had played a role in the incident.
“They set it on the ground, and I stepped on it by accident,” she said. “But they wasted no time and got to work fixing it. They acknowledged too that the ground probably wasn’t the best place to put their car.”
Don Edwards, associate dean of TWU’s College of Arts & Sciences and the chairman of the Department of Mathematics & Computer Sciences, said the turnout for 2017 was among the event’s largest.
“We’ve had schools from all over come this year; a great turnout from charter schools as well,” he said. “This is probably the second largest we’ve had since it started 19 years ago.”
Edwards said the focus is to get more students interested in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — particularly young women. According to a 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Commerce, women fill only 24 percent of jobs in STEM fields, even though women are 48 percent of the country’s workforce.
When the Bubble Gum Rollers were asked about their interest in engineering and mathematics, they gave mixed reactions.
“I’m going into engineering,” said Sebastian. “I don’t know about everyone else.”
“Maybe,” said Emily. “I’ll consider it.”
Maci and Angel, the other two teammates, gave a shrug, though both admitted they had loads of fun during the day’s activities.
“I was just excited to get a day off from school,” said Emily, who then was met with cheers and affirmation from her teammates.
They’ll be back soon enough.
HARRISON LONG can be reached at 940-566-6897 and via Twitter at @HarrisonGLong.