Students put math and science knowledge to work at golf store

By Kevin Beese Staff Writer

Chicago Vocational Career Academy student Adedeji Feyisitan gets ready to putt Friday, April 12, at a STEM event at PXG Chicago West in Oakbrook Terrace. The event was aimed at encouraging students from diverse backgrounds to pursue STEM careers. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

Janiya Cowan plans to be a force in golf.

Although picking up a golf club for the first time during a recent visit to PXG Chicago West in Oakbrook Terrace, the Chicago Vocational Career Academy student has her sights set high.

“The female Tiger Woods,” she proclaimed.

“I kind of liked it,” she said of golfing after getting some basics at a Friday, April 12, STEM event at PXG. “It’s a little hard, but I’m getting there. I’m getting there.”

Lumity, a local nonprofit dedicated to enhancing accessibility to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education, and PXG are collaborating to inspire Chicago area students from diverse backgrounds to pursue STEM careers. Together, they introduced 21 Chicago Vocational students to the field through the science and technology of golf.

During the educational event, students engaged in four areas, fostering their interest in STEM and sports:

  • “Smash Factor” Station at a store golf simulator: Utilizing mathematics and showing measurements on Trackman technology
  • Longest-Drive Station at a golf simulator: Calculating the longest drive for students of each gender
  • Putting Lab on the store’s putting green: Calculating face angles and designing their own alignment aid
  • Materials Lab: Discussing the properties of golf equipment

Chicago Vocational students hang out in the lounge area of PXG during a break at their STEM event. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

Amber Taylor, corporate & volunteer relationship manager at Lumity, said the trip to PXG was the nonprofit’s first golf event.

“A lot of our students don’t get to learn a lot about golf,” Taylor said. “It’s not something that’s really presented to them or even shared as an option when you talk about sports. I think it’s cool for them to always see different avenues, different opportunities, and they really enjoyed it.”

One of the student groups was learning about putting, hitting the ball at a certain angle, and only veering off course a certain amount and still making it in the hole.

“One of our students saw the problem very quickly and when he hit the ball after that, he got a hole-in-one,” Taylor said. “So, it was like, ‘OK, you’re putting the science, the math together and it’s actually helping you golf.’”

Janiya Cowan follows through on a practice swing during the event. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

Lumity is working with five Chicago area high schools, providing experiences to prepare youths in under-resourced communities for STEM careers.

Adedeji Feyisitan is another Chicago Vocational student who had never golfed before the PXG event.

“Seeing how to swing the putter and knowing how to really get your body into a swing, how to manage a swing, it was nice and fun,” Feyisitan said. “They didn’t make it too boring. They added a little bit of math, but it was a really good experience.”

He said having to think about the curve of the club, hole distance, and speed and acceleration of a swing are STEM components that factor into golf.

Donny Rollins, a master club fitter at PXG, said the company’s STEM program is important because it exposes more individuals to golf.

“We see all walks of life in here,” Rollins said. “I want more people in the door. I want more people to know that our store is here for everybody. Golf is booming right now. The industry is very, very popular, and the more folks we get in here and get fit for clubs, the more people who will enjoy golf.”

He said launch angles and smash factors are just some of the ways to use science, technology, engineering and technology in golf, and factor into how golf clubs are built.

Students use their phone calculators to figure out a question from PXG staff during the STEM event. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

“Every single swing you make has a certain number to it — swing speed, ball speed, launch angle,” Rollins said. “Everything we do on the golf course is very number-oriented, so let’s take advantage and learn as much as we can about these numbers to get better at this game.”

Highland Park native Caleb Kroloff, who is PXG’s director of woods research and development, said the company’s events help students know that STEM knowledge has application outside of the classroom.

“People think of math and science, and they think of NASA and Boeing and some of those companies, and they don’t realize that those opportunities exist in a lot of the things around us,” Kroloff said.

Kroloff remembers a teacher urged him to consider engineering because of his love for math and science and noted that everything that is designed needs an engineer.

“A lightbulb clicked, and it was, ‘Hey, that’s what I want to do. That’s the career path I want to learn about and go down, and I’ve loved it since,” he said.

Kroloff said he loved being able to talk with students about STEM opportunities.

“I generally don’t get in front of an audience of students who are in STEM and say, ‘Hey, this is an option,’” he said. “Hopefully, someone either gets inspired to get into the game of golf by it or into math and science and reflects and then goes ‘Maybe I’ll go into engineering.’”