During her first two years in high school, Jaidyn Ramirez did not feel confident when it came to science. “I never thought I was good at it,” she said, echoing a feeling many students experience. “I always felt that I was better at reading and writing than I was at math and science.”
That sentiment changed during her junior year at Hoover High School in Fresno, California, thanks in large part to her 11th grade physics teacher Michael Zapata, who Ramirez calls “amazing.” In addition to introducing Ramirez to renewable energy, and ultimately encouraging her to join one of the school’s KidWind competition teams, he actively engaged all of his students in the learning process through hands-on exploration.
“Hands-on learning is what made me fall in love with physics—being able to actually do a lab and see the results right in front of you is so much more intriguing than just sitting there learning about a concept,” said Ramirez. “This really changed the way I viewed science.”
Developing a Love for Science
One of Zapata’s first units taught students about renewable energy, specifically mechanical power output and electrical power output. During the unit, students were tasked with building a wind turbine using a KidWind experiment kit and measuring the power output of those turbines using Vernier data-collection technology.
After completing the first unit, Ramirez said she was hooked and decided to join one of the school’s two newly formed KidWind competition teams. “I felt so encouraged and accomplished after designing the turbine,” said Ramirez. “I was really excited by the whole process and wanted to do more.”
As part of the extracurricular competition teams, Ramirez and a small group of her peers worked collaboratively to design a turbine that would generate the most energy. This involved teamwork, critical thinking, and multiple design iterations by the students.
“We started by basing our design off of what we did in class and then went from there to try to make the turbine spin as fast as possible,” said Ramirez. “We’d connect an energy sensor, Variable Load, and LabQuest® 2 to the turbine and then test it in a Vernier Wind Tunnel, which we were especially fortunate to have access to at our school. Based on the data, we were able to make adjustments to stabilize and maximize our turbine before competing. This often included changing blade size or realigning hubs.”
Innovating and Competing
During her junior and senior years of high school, Ramirez competed in regional and national KidWind Challenges during which groups of student teams convened to test their designs before a panel of judges. In her junior year, she was a member of an all-girls team called “Just Keep Spinning” that won second place for power output at the regional competition, along with the Judge’s Award, a recognition given to the team that best defends its design during an interview-style process. At the national competition in Chicago, Illinois, the team also took home the Judge’s Award.
“This was the first time our school was ever represented at a National KidWind Challenge, so we were thrilled,” said Ramirez. “The whole experience felt like a movie. Looking around and seeing everyone’s turbine was inspiring—it gave me the confidence to want to do the competition again and design something even better!”
In her senior year, Ramirez was part of a new team called “Flux Ambassadors.” She said her team was committed to thinking outside of the box and used new materials, including foam blades and new gear ratios to maximize their design, which ultimately won first place at regionals. The team, which later took the name “The Windustrial Revolution,” ended up winning the Innovation Award at the national’s challenge later that year in Houston, Texas.
“While we didn’t place for power output, we were recognized for having the most inventive design,” said Ramirez. “It was once again just a really rewarding experience.”
Ramirez credits the KidWind Challenges, in addition to her physics teacher Zapata, for helping her challenge her own thoughts about science and changing her educational trajectory. Today, she is majoring in physics at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California, although she said she may consider switching to electrical engineering. “I’m really interested in the renewable energy sector and working in teams to strategize ways to make things more efficient.”
“My confidence in my abilities with engineering, math, and science grew immensely in the two years I was a part of KidWind,” said Ramirez. “It really left a lasting impression and led me to where I am today.”
About the Student
Sonoma State University
Rohnert Park, CA
Jaidyn Ramirez is an undergraduate student at Sonoma State University and plans to pursue a career in the STEM industry upon graduation.