They felt intimidated. They endured snickers from competitors. But the five girls from Perry Hall High School persevered and now are looking ahead to Detroit.
It took an unprecedented effort by Lindsay McCann, Abigail Atkinson, Eun Lim, Lindsay Kegel and Lauren Jones to get this far. Never before has an all-girl team won a regional contest in DaimlerChrysler's "Build Your Dream Vehicle" competition, now in its sixth year.
The Perry Hall five left behind a nearly all-boy field, earning a free trip to Detroit next month, where they will face off against eight teams of young aspiring engineers from around the country.
The thought of the win makes team members glow.
"There was just one other girl at the [regional] competition, and she was on a team of boys from Eastern Technical High School," in Essex, said McCann, 16.
After their victory, the girls were presented with a super-sized cardboard check for $3,000 that they will give to their school. Should they win again next month, they will walk away with the grand prize, worth $5,000.
Not that getting to this point was easy.
When the girls showed up at the regional design event, held at a hotel near Georgetown University in Washington, they drew tee-hees from students who came prepared to make flashy presentations with laptop computers. The Perry Hall girls lugged around a bulky PC -- their school doesn't have laptops -- which took much longer to set up and tear down.
"I was intimidated," said Lim, 17.
The team's Introduction to Engineering teacher, a laid-back, bearded man named Michael McIntyre, -- the girls call him "Mac" -- told them to stop worrying about what they lacked and concentrate on what they had: a brainy presentation that combined hard data, colorful designs, and a shoe-box-sized plastic foam and clay model of their dream vehicle.
The truck they dreamed up would run on bio-diesel fuel -- a mixture of vegetable oil, methanol and lye -- and come equipped with an automatic, fold-down ramp for loading and unloading cargo.
It caught the judges' eyes because it could be sold to government agencies required to cut pollution. It would also appeal to business owners who could use it to qualify for energy conservation and clean-air tax breaks.
The team set a sticker price of $23,000 for the basic model, $28,000 for the luxury design.
The team also did some test marketing over the telephone. While some people just "blew them off," said Atkinson, 17, others patient enough to listen to their pitch gave the idea praise.
The judges deliberated for about 15 minutes before declaring the Perry Hall team victorious. The decision, said McCann, shocked team members and their competitors, who were incredulous that they had "lost to a bunch of girls."
On the way back to Baltimore, the girls listened to pop music and teased their teacher about his driving.
And they made plans for the future. They decided to perfect their presentations and rehearse their oral reports, team members said.
And they vowed that before leaving for Detroit, they will get a laptop computer.