Vanessa Bello and Adriana Figueroa feel a rush of adrenaline as they gear up in their welding uniforms and watch their blueprints come to life — it’s a feeling everyone deserves to experience, regardless of gender, they shared.
“It’s all dark but you see this little light while welding; then when you take off your helmet and see that you have this perfect line, it’s like, ‘I really did that,’” said Bello, who just wrapped up her freshman year at Cristo Rey High School alongside Figueroa.
Minddrive was founded in 2010 as an experiential learning program for students in the Kansas City Metro. With an emphasis on mentoring and innovation, Minddrive has programs centered around drones, robotics, welding, automotive design and more.
Click here to read the history behind Minddrive.
Bello and Figueroa stumbled upon Minddrive through their 2020 summer season at Jumpstart, they recalled. Enjoying the program and working on cars, the duo carried on with Minddrive during the school year.
“I can definitely say that these ladies are some of the best students we’ve had this past year,” said Britany Mojica, a mentor to Bello and Figueroa at Minddrive. “They came in right away wanting to try everything and fully engage in the program. They really excelled at everything they did, so I’m really proud of them.”
Wanting to share their newfound passion for welding and engineering with other students, the girls applied for Remake Learning Days — an initiative sponsored by The DeBruce Foundation that allows students to pitch their event ideas, with winners receiving resources and funding to host their event. The Debruce Foundation partnered with Startland, the parent organization of Startland News and KC STEM Alliance to organize the initiative.
The duo’s pitch centered around introducing young people to the art of engineering fabrication through hands-on learning experiences, they explained.
“Our goal was to show students that there’s different things to do outside of what we learn in school,” Figueroa noted. “A lot of people in high school don’t really know what they want to do after high school, so we wanted to show that this is a possible path.”
“Welding and engineering are so different from the average classes you take in school,” Bello added. “I don’t like physics … but I like engineering because it’s more hands-on and it’s more visual.”
Along with teaching other young adults about possible career paths, the girls wanted to be an example for how diverse the engineering field can be, they shared.
“We also wanted to show the girls what we’re capable of because when people talk about engineering, construction or robotics, most people always think of guys,” Bello explained. “We wanted to let other people know that girls can do ‘tough-boy jobs’ or whatever you’d call it.”
Winning the pitch competition, the duo met outside of their weekly Minddrive class to ensure that their event “Magic In Engineering” would be a success. Another freshman at Cristo Rey, Christian Collins, later joined their team for the effort.
Dozens of students attended “Magic In Engineering” in early May.
“I think it was a very successful event,” Mojica said, smiling. “For not being widely advertised, we did not expect as many people to show up that did. … Vanessa also, literally three days before the event, designed the graphic for the Facebook invitations. It all really came together.”
Watch Vanessa Bello and Adriana Figeuroa give their pitch below, then scroll to keep reading.
Minddrive strives to create core moments in their programs for students to learn about creativity, teamwork and leadership, Mojica said. Every once in a while, students take those moments and run.
Although it was her first year in the program, Bello showed no hesitation in getting involved and becoming a leader, Mojica continued. Because of her efforts, the Minddrive mentors and staff nominated Bello for Engineer of the Year, selecting her as their Leader of the Year at Minddrive’s June 12 annual awards ceremony.
“I wasn’t expecting [the award], but I am really excited for it,” Bello said at the event. “It shows the work I put in this whole year, and now I’m more open to leading. I know that I can help others and help them succeed with me.”
Although Bello and Figueroa both have busy summers filled with work (and even planning a quinceañera for Figueroa), they expect to find time to finish building a car they designed with Minddrive, they said.
For students who are interested in Minddrive, Bello strongly encouraged trying out any of its programming.
“It can be a way to escape and learn something new,” she shared. “And you may find some valuable skills you can use to help out in your community. I know at my church, they’ll usually be like, ‘Who can weld and help with this?’ And now I can do that. Also, you build a lot of friendships here with your mentors and the other people who come to Minddrive.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that seeks to build inclusive prosperity through a prepared workforce and entrepreneur-focused economic development. The Foundation works to change conditions, address root causes, and break down systemic barriers so that all people – regardless of race, gender, or geography – have the opportunity to achieve economic stability, mobility, and prosperity.