Fashion and engineering: A love story

I never imagined that a little black solar dress would be the key to my dreams.

It all began in my science research class. I’m an environmental freak. Yes, I recycle the most ridiculous things, rummage through garbage for recyclables, and grab random trash lying on the sidewalk. The course became the perfect opportunity to delve further into my environmental side; my first project was a calculation of greenhouse gas emissions from two local high schools, and the next year, I worked at the University of Toledo evaluating the environmental impacts of producing a new type of solar cell. Those projects were great, but something was missing…

One day, my teacher read a chapter from Science Fair Season by Judy Dutton. It described a girl (much like me) who became a finalist in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). This girl, obsessed with style, wasn’t afraid to wear a tiara to school, but deep down, she was a science nerd. Hearing her story, I realized I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only geek dreaming of fashion and wearing her Midwest Supermodel tiara to school. There were other girls, too, who loved both worlds.

All my life I’ve been a fashionista. The words “haute couture” and “avant-garde” snatch my attention; Dior renders me speechless; designing/modeling my designs is exhilarating. My artistic side often distinguished me from others in my advanced courses — many classmates didn’t relate, so bullying became their way of handling our differences. However, I learned that just because you are interested in something different than those around you, it doesn’t mean you should stop doing it! I now strive to be different; it allows me to shine and be myself.

Senior year, I wanted to end things with a bang. I needed to add the one piece missing from my other projects: fashion. It’s difficult to create outstanding work when your passions are not equally represented. My new experiences in solar technology inspired me to explore ideas that combined my passions for the environment and fashion. The result: a solar panel dress that charges cell phones, iPods, tablets… you name it! As I began sketches for the dress design, Lady Gaga became my muse. Her extravagant, avant-garde style seemed perfect for my futuristic creation. Creating a similar dress for her would be so incredible (no dream is ever too big, ladies)!

Important note: Before this project, I knew zilch about electricity. Thankfully, my dad is an electrical engineer; he taught me EVERYTHING I needed to know. With the designed circuitry added to the sewn dress, I prepared for science fairs! The reactions I received from students, judges and media were amazing. The accomplishments I’ve achieved with this project have been matched by no other in the past. This was my evidence that I was doing exactly what I was meant to do.

The last three years, my region hasn’t had the opportunity to attend preliminary competitions for Intel ISEF. My senior year was the first time we could compete for the illustrious fair we read about in class. The opportunity was amazing enough, but I was named a finalist for Intel ISEF. Imagine how it would feel to have your wildest dream come true. That’s how I felt. The tears poured, the disbelief set it: “I’m not really going, this isn’t really happening.” But it really was happening!

To pull a little advice from my experience: Never feel ashamed of your strengths. No matter gender, no matter if you’re a nerd, orch-a-dork, artist, athlete, fashionista, the list goes on… you are that person for a reason. Be proud! As far as science is concerned, it’s not just for the boys that currently dominate the industry. Ladies: Bring all your glamour, charm, talents and smarts to the science world and prepare to unleash an entirely new world. Science is an incredible thing and should be explored by everyone and in every depth possible!

As for my future journey, I will study fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC this fall. I plan to blaze a trail in scientific fashion with emphasis on environmentally conscious production and further technological incorporation. Through these areas, I will teach others about climate change and technology, while encouraging people to morph their talents into something they love. I cannot wait to see where my future will lead me, nor can I wait to see how the science community develops as it involves more young women. Until then, good luck ladies, and don’t forget to do what you love. It will take you farther than you could possibly dream.

Allison Fern Clausius was a finalist in the 2015 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. She will be a freshman at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York this fall.

(Images via John Flynn.)

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