In addition to meeting championship-winning driver Christina Nielsen, center, the students of the Detroit International Academy of Young Women in Detroit were invited to tour the car paddock and ask questions of professional Grand Prix race teams Feb. 28.

In addition to meeting championship-winning driver Christina Nielsen, center, the students of the Detroit International Academy of Young Women in Detroit were invited to tour the car paddock and ask questions of professional Grand Prix race teams Feb. 28.

Photo by Donna Agusti


Detroit International Academy of Young Women students meet Grand Prix driver

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published March 1, 2018

 Nielsen speaks to students about following their dreams.

Nielsen speaks to students about following their dreams.

Photo by Donna Agusti

 The students  — including eighth-grader Amerrie Shanks, sixth-grader Gianna Benson and sixth-grader Emerald Rashid — welcome Nielsen and other representatives of the Detroit Grand Prix.

The students — including eighth-grader Amerrie Shanks, sixth-grader Gianna Benson and sixth-grader Emerald Rashid — welcome Nielsen and other representatives of the Detroit Grand Prix.

Photo by Donna Agusti

DETROIT — Students at the Detroit International Academy of Young Women in Detroit got to meet an inspiring figure and got a pleasant surprise at a presentation Feb. 28.

The students met Christina Nielsen, a professional driver in the International Motor Sports Association who will be one of the competitors in the 2018 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix race on Belle Isle. In addition to a Q&A with Nielsen, the students got to check out a real Indycar up close and were surprised with an invitation into the vehicle paddocks prior to the race, where they will have a chance to meet the rest of Nielsen’s team.

“A few years ago, Comerica approached us and we had a great discussion about the Grand Prix and our students,” said middle school science teacher and robotics team mentor Cetaura Bell. “They brought the race car down, and the girls got to go to the Grand Prix, and it changed everything. … I’m so glad we’re continuing this partnership.”

Science class students, robotics team members and members of the Girls in Technology group in grades six through 12 took part in the event. The hope by both teachers and the event organizers was that the students would be inspired to explore career paths and interests they may never have experienced before.

“My hope is the students never feel like they’re put in a box,” said Bell. “We hope this opens them up to exploring new avenues as a driver or as a designer. I hope this means they know there’s a whole other world out there for them they may have never considered.”

The Grand Prix will take place Friday, June 1, through Sunday, June 3. June 1 is known as “Free Prix Day.” Sponsored by Comerica, admission to the festivities is free on that day.

Nielsen said she was glad to meet the students and hoped she was able to inspire them.

“I just got happy to see how excited they got,” she remarked. “They’re full of life, and everyone needs a helping hand, and I hope I was able to provide that for them.”

She continued, saying she is looking forward to showing the students around on Free Prix Day and hopes to show them how their classes have real-world applications that they may have never realized.

“You’ll get to see behind the scenes and meet the team,” Nielsen said to the students. “A lot of science, technology, engineering and math goes into racing, whether you’re an engineer, a mechanic or a driver. ... Things like algebra and calculus can determine a race when you’re calculating things like fuel rate, speed and planned stops.”

Nielsen shared how she grew up around racing, but became a professional driver not because her dad was one for 25 years, but because she had a passion for it. She credited her parents more for fostering that passion and encouraging her to follow her dream.

She went on to say that certain professions can still be daunting for many women because of the resistance they may face from others to enter into it, or the lack of women already doing it. She encouraged the female students to stand up for themselves and to never let anyone tell them there are jobs they can’t do because they’re women.

“I hope they understand that they need to be supportive of one another, but also that you need to make a difference in your own life,” said Nielsen. “The problem with role models is they can make mistakes, and you need to be able to depend on yourself, so when there’s a setback, you can get back up again without waiting for someone else to pull you back up.”

The students responded strongly to the message, and several walked away virtually in awe of the professional driver.

“It’s very inspiring because it was so interesting to meet and talk with Christina,” said senior and robotics team member Nuzhat Prova. “Before today, I didn’t even know there were women racing drivers. I’m going to the University of Michigan next year, and they have a really cool solar car team. I had doubts about joining because there weren’t very many women on the team, but meeting Christina inspired me to follow through and join.”

As for the race itself, Nielsen said she plans on not worrying about it and taking the preparation process one step at a time. She hopes people will come out and enjoy the weekend.

“I think it’s a great experience people can learn from,” said Nielsen. “It’s a great way to go outside and spend time with family and friends. You can get so much out of it.”