Author: Margot Lee Shetterly

Model Behavior – Summary

In chapter 19, Mary Jackson worked with her son Levi to build a car for a soap box derby race. They followed strict rules for the car’s weight, size, and cost, and used creative materials like plywood and old shoes to build it. Mary helped Levi refine the car until it could race down a hill with him inside. Mary used her skills from her job in aerospace to make sure the car was aerodynamic. The race was challenging because of air resistance, but Mary encouraged Levi to pursue a career in science while they built the car.

The All-American Soap Box Derby was a fun competition for boys to build and race their own cars, and it started during the Depression as a way to create something out of nothing. Parents, especially fathers, enjoyed building the cars with their sons and spending time together. Meanwhile, NASA engineers hoped that their children would become engineers too, and they encouraged them to excel in math and science. Mary Jackson, a derby mom, saw the competition as an opportunity for her son Levi to learn about engineering and science. However, it was harder for black children to enter the derby due to segregation, and many black people disqualified themselves even without explicit segregation signs. Mary was determined to overcome these obstacles and inspire others to achieve.

Mary Jackson, a talented engineer at Langley volunteered her time for various activities. She believed that girls needed extra attention and worked to bring them into the Langley facilities for tours. Mary also worked with black employees and helped them find housing. She cultivated allies among white women, such as Emma Jean Landrum, who also became an engineer. Mary and Emma Jean gave a joint lecture on the aspects of engineering for women, which was inspiring for an all-black group of junior high school girls. Mary was also in charge of a Girl Scout group and wanted to unite all the Girl Scouts under one organization. She worked to send her assistant leader Janice Johnson to a national meeting for Girl Scouts in Cody, Wyoming. Helen Mulcahy helped by taking Janice on a trek as part of her training.

Mary Jackson knew that she was able to achieve her goals because of the work of those who came before her. Women like Dorothy Vaughan, Pearl Young, Virginia Tucker, and Kitty Joyner, as well as other black women and white women who came before her, had broken down barriers and allowed Mary to succeed. When Mary’s son, Levi Jr., won the Virginia Peninsula Soap Box Derby, it was another “Black First” that inspired the community and showed what was possible. Although Mary knew that her son was a “ringer” who was well-prepared to win the race, she still felt pride and excitement, knowing that Levi’s victory was a symbol of hope and possibility for the future.



What did Mary Jackson and her son, Levi, build together?

Mary Jackson and her son Levi built a car together for a soap box derby race. They spent a lot of time working on the design and materials, and Mary used her expertise to make sure the car was aerodynamic. They followed strict rules about the weight and size of the car, and used materials like plywood, old shoes, and wire to build it. They polished and refined the car until it was ready for the race, which took place on a hill. Levi and his competitors released their brakes and raced down the hill, hoping to win the race against air resistance.


In what ways does the soap box derby represent the breaking down of racial boundaries?

The soap box derby represented the breaking down of racial boundaries in several ways. Mary Jackson and her son, who were African American, were able to participate in the derby alongside other children, despite facing discrimination in other areas of their lives. The competition brought together children of different races and backgrounds, all working together to build their own soap box cars and compete against each other. Mary also used the project as an opportunity to teach her son about science and engineering, encouraging him to pursue a career in those fields. Overall, the soap box derby provided a space where children could come together and share a common interest, regardless of their race or background.


How does Mary make female participation in engineering and the sciences visible to school-age young women? Why is herwork as a role model important?

Mary Jackson’s work in engineering and science made her an inspiration and role model for school-age young women. She made her participation visible by encouraging young women to pursue careers in science and engineering. In her work at NASA, Mary was the first female engineer in her division and faced discrimination, but she persevered and was able to make a significant contribution to the space program. Her work as a role model is important because it shows young women that they can achieve their dreams in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. Mary’s story inspires girls to follow their interests in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and not let gender barriers hold them back. She is an example of how hard work, determination, and a passion for science can overcome obstacles and make a significant contribution to society.


After winning the derby, what does Levi tell the Norfolk Journal and Guide? Why is his comment significant?

After winning the Virginia Peninsula Soap Box Derby, Levi Jackson told local reporters that the secret of his victory was the slimness of his machine, which helped to lower the wind resistance. When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said that he wanted to be an engineer like his mother.

His comment is significant because he not only credited his win to the technical aspects of his soap box car, but he also expressed his ambition to pursue a career in engineering like his mother. This statement highlights the importance of visible role models for young women and girls who may not see themselves represented in STEM fields.

Additionally, Levi’s win as the “first colored boy in history” to win the peninsula’s soap box derby was significant in breaking down racial barriers and inspiring hope that other barriers could also be broken. The donations that poured in from the community to support Levi’s trip to the national All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio, also showed the community’s support for his achievement and aspirations.


What is meant by the title of the chapter, ‘Model Behavior’?

The title “Model Behavior” refers to Mary Jackson’s work with her son Levi to build a car for a soap box derby race. They followed strict rules for the car’s weight, size, and cost and used creative materials to build it. Mary used her skills from her job in aerospace to make sure the car was aerodynamic, and she encouraged Levi to pursue a career in science. The chapter shows how Mary’s role as a derby mom was an opportunity for her to inspire Levi and other children to achieve their dreams despite the obstacles of segregation. Mary’s work with the Girl Scouts and other activities also showed her commitment to bringing people together and breaking down barriers. The chapter highlights Mary’s belief in the power of role models and the importance of hard work and determination in achieving success.

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