BOSTON (CBS) – You don’t hear of this combination every day: a student at Harvard who is also a professional race car driver, splitting her time between the race track and school.

What is more impressive, though, is 21-year-old Aurora Straus started ‘Girls With Drive’, an initiative to get young girls interested in STEM careers.

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“The car doesn’t know the difference between female muscle and male muscle, right? You just need to be able to drive it well,” said Straus while standing on Harvard’s campus in early February of 2020.

Straus has been a professional race car driver since she was 17.

“I learned how to drive in a manual car with my Dad,” Straus said. “At 15, I did my first race school. I was completely sold. I was hooked, and then I’ve been racing professionally since I was 17 years old. So I was racing before I came to Harvard.”

Aurora Straus (WBZ-TV)

We met at Harvard in 2020 before the shutdown. The now-sophomore is studying history and literature, and minoring in government. With politics in her future, she currently switches gears and focuses on her STEM-based career of racing on the weekends.

“Racing in general is entirely STEM-focused. There’s so much math and physics behind racing that people don’t talk about, don’t understand, but most of the smartest people I’ve ever met, some of them are here. A lot of them are engineers in the racing world.”

Thousands of inputs based on sensors in the car are downloaded after each race and formulated into complicated equations and graphs to figure out where she may be off by her competitor by hundredths or thousands of a second.

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“Because professional drivers tend to be up to a couple of a tenths off from each other, but if you are not within a tenth of your competitor, you’re already gone. So finding a hundredth of a second is something you’re not going to be able to see in video. It’s not going to be something that you can feel with intuition. But it is something you can see in data.”

But the beauty of this math lesson is that she shares it with young girls. She invites groups of Girls Scouts to the track hoping to inspire them into a STEM career.

“I have a non-profit called ‘Girls With Drive’. I started it a couple of years ago, because I had a young girl come up to me and told me she didn’t know girls were allowed to race,” Straus says.

‘Girls With Drive’ has two different educational components: the STEM parts of racing and the business of racing.

“I think, on the one hand, that I’m really lucky to be in an opportunity to reach out to young girls at the race track, be an active role model and show them that this something that they can do too. But on the flip side of that, I think part of why it’s important for me to be there is to show a lack of difference,“ Straus explains.

And despite years of being one of just a few women on the track, Aurora updated us over Zoom that this year, 2021, is already making history.

“I’m fielding a female car this year, an-all women car which is making history. It’s the first all women driver lineup in SOR America…I just finished my first race with Christina Neilson and it was awesome! I’ve never been in a two-car professional racing lineup with another women like that,” says Straus. “We’re stronger when we’re together, I really do believe that and the results will speak for themselves.”

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She will be racing in car number 43 competing in SRO GT4 AMERICA with her next race lined up for Austin, Texas at the end of April. She tells WBZ that one of her goals, along with winning a national championship, is she is hoping to safely host more ‘Girls With Drive’ programs at the race track soon.

Sarah Wroblewski