Utilizing Baltimore's dirt bikes to nurture young engineers

Video: Emily Eaglin

Brittany Young, an engineering graduate and technology instructor who grew up in West Baltimore, is chatting to one of the parents who have wandered past B-360’s stall at Safety City Day, in Druid Hill, Baltimore. She’s direct and engaging, conveying her mission to translate young Baltimorean’s passion for dirt biking into a future in science, technology and engineering. “B-360 is aiming to change the perception of dirt bikes and engineering,” she says, “but also to let people know that dirt bike riders and professionals in science and engineering have commonalities.”

Safety City Day is an annual event where local children to learn about traffic safety and families can find out about local non-profits and community organisations. Men and women from the Maryland Book Bank and the Fire Department are handing out leaflets and candy whilst others hand out free hot dogs, cupcakes, chips and mini water bottles. B360’s table features a small pile of pamphlets, flyers containing stats on children and sports-related injuries, and a small blue dirt bike displayed in front of the table.

Whilst it remains illegal to ride or own a dirt bike in Baltimore, Young observed that there were more inclusive solutions for this demographic of underage riders than simple criminalization.

She launched B-360 in March, based on her observation that the skills one gained fixing up dirt bikes were translatable. These skills, she believes, can be refocused to help people gain access to the science and engineering jobs offered by tech and engineering companies relocating to Baltimore: a report last year by the Greater Baltimore Committee and Associated Black Charities showed that a quarter of all jobs in the Baltimore area require STEM qualifications. “Dirt bike riders are mechanics,” Young says, “and it requires mechanical engineering. A lot of riders already know how to repair their own bikes and we want to utilize these skills to show people that engineering is not that hard.”

Each Wednesday, 30 students meet the B360 team in Young’s classroom in a West Baltimore school. They’re promptly instructed to finish their homework before the activities can begin. There’s a recap on the past week’s lesson and a presentation on the day’s activities followed with a hands-on workshop led by mentors, dirt bike riders and students recruited via online and flyer campaigns at local high schools and universities. One recent workshop taught the difference between prototyping and models, in which students learned how to create models using 3D printers, CNC machines, and laser cutters, then create their own designs for 3D-printed dirt bikes. They’re now focusing on mechanics, riding safety and technique and bike customisation.

Back at Safety City, B-360 mentor and rider Mark is chatting to the kids and parents passing by the stall. He’s living proof that B-360 has real potential. “It’s helped me get better job offers,” he said. “This company wants me to go over to California to do some work for them in engineering.”

Young has two photos on the table, each showing 5th Grade dirt bike rider Daron who now harbours aspirations to become an engineer. In the first, the boy is looking directly into the camera, arms folded, as he holds a strong stance beside a dirt bike; in the other, he’s wearing a lab coat in a school laboratory. Young’s goal is to combine these two images in the minds of Baltimore’s citizens.

The organization is currently trying to organize a summer showcase for students to present their skills and science projects to Baltimore citizens. Longer term, the dream is to procure a permanent safe space for her students and adult riders to learn, play and eventually get those engineering jobs. “Imagine dirt bike riders still being able to ride but in a safe space,” says Young.

Her ambition is to work with local government to help problem-solve around dirt bike riding in the city, giving a voice to those who want to ride safely.

“B-360 is also a way to show dirt bike riders in a new light, as curious, brilliant engineers and to get more current Baltimore residents into STEM jobs.”

B-360 Facebook

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