Motorsports and entrepreneurship: UM-Flint to host IndyCar change-maker Rod Reid 

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There is an IndyCar in the foreground that says "Force Indy" on the side. A tall poster is on the left behind that with the tittle "Still I race" and four men are standing behind the car posed for a picture. The rear of the image shows a setting of an automotive show at an indoor conference center.
Rod Reid (right) poses with Donkmaster Sage Thomas and some of his team behind Reid's ForceIndy show model.

"By mastering STEM, anything is possible." This simple yet encompassing statement is the mantra Shirl Donaldson, a University of Michigan-Flint assistant professor of digital machining and automation technology, and Rod Reid, entrepreneur and IndyCar racing principal, are teaching young children. 

Reid will expand those six words, 5-7 p.m., Jan. 24, as UM-Flint's College of Innovation and Technology will host the entrepreneur as a part of the Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Speaker Series. His visit is made possible with support from the School of Management's Hagerman Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. Reid will discuss diversity in motorsports and his efforts to increase it through his various organizations. The event is free and open to the public but is limited to 300 attendees who can join for dinner, networking, and information about Reid's journey of entrepreneurship.

After a successful business career, Reid founded NXG Youth Motorsports to motivate and prepare youth, particularly African Americans and other minorities from underrepresented communities, to be conscientious drivers behind the wheel and of their lives. NXG, also known as Nexgenracers, runs a Youth Motorsports Academy designed for 11 to 15-year-old girls and boys that aligns with middle school academic math and science standards using go-karts as a teaching tool. In 2021, they brought this experience to Detroit with students racing on the Belle Isle track

Select NXG graduates then get to compete in Grand Prix, a competitive go-kart racing series for graduates of the academy. Racers fresh from the Grand Prix program, aspiring mechanics, engineers or managers aged 16 to 21 can apply to the Path-to-Pro program. This program is designed to foster career-oriented relationships between professional race teams and NXG graduates and often leads to internship and apprenticeship opportunities. 

In 2020, Reid partnered with Roger Penske, owner of one of the most successful racing organizations in history, and founded Force Indy, an IndyCar racing team with a vision to see motorsports grow ethnically and across gender. "Force Indy's priority is in finding skilled and talented individuals and mentoring them for success at the highest level," said Reid.

While Reid has been doing this work out of Indianapolis, Donaldson has been busy with the same broad goal locally. Together they are teaming up to help bring his program to the Flint area. 

Shirl Donaldson
Donaldson

After helping run family automotive and machine shops, Donaldson decided to take her expertise to academia and became one of CIT's founding faculty members. Soon thereafter, she began researching whether DONK racing could be an access point for underrepresented minorities in STEM. Through this project, she connected with Sage Thomas of Vice TV's "Donkmaster" and Reid. 

In a separate project supported by UM-Flint's Urban Institute Racial Environmental and Economic Justice, Donaldson has formed a team of five professors, seven local congregations and two community centers in Flint to pursue a Racial Equity in STEM grant from the NSF. This project focuses on informal learning with the aim of building STEM identities for underserved youth in Flint. This project and each of the above stress to all communities that everyone belongs in STEM and work towards systemic solutions to systemic problems.

"To be able to do the important work today, you've got to get STEM tools and knowledge," said Donaldson. "Everyone needs to be at that table, no matter their passions, field, or industry."

Rob McCullough is the communications specialist for the College of Innovation & Technology. He can be reached at romccull@umich.edu.