February/March 2017 65 At Notre Dame, the team started out with just about 20 students, but grew to 60 through recruitment through class visits and exhibitions. Some girls had been hesitating to join because they hadn’t yet taken STEM courses like engineering. So the Notre Dame team created a four-day summer boot camp where they gave participants simple projects to teach them skills like computer-aided design, programming and basic power tools usage. For many, it clicked. Program director Marta Carillo says 70 percent of the girls who have participated in boot camp join the robotics team. “It’s a fun environment where girls can be successful,” she explains. Yashna Bansal agrees. She believes that sometimes it’s easier to girls to be more sure of their own technical skills and decisions when working with other girls. “STEM is a very male-dominated field. Sometimes when you visit a company, all you see is guys who are doing robotics. And I know that the first time I went to the robotics competitions, I was shocked at how many teams were almost all guys; you could count the number of girls on one hand.” Why is that? Bansal has noticed that “sometimes when you’re working next to a guy and you’ve never done something, you take a step back,” she explains. “It’s because they may seem overly confident, and you’re unsure whether you’re able to step up to the plate as well.” She adds that having a robotics team at an all-girls school fosters confidence, and creates an environment where girls can explore STEM without worrying about messing up in front of their peers. “You’re surrounded by girls who have the same past experience as you, and are learning at the same rate as you are. So you are confident in making mistakes and learning from them.” At the same time, coed schools are also doing their part to inspire young women to get involved in robotics, develop confidence, and ultimately go on to pursue higher education and even a career in a STEM fields. Annette Lane, robotics program director at coed Valley Christian High School In Valley Christian Schools’ robotics lab, “WarriorBorgs” team member uses his machining skills to ready a robot for a competition. in San Jose, says she started the school’s program 14 years ago because she wanted to show students why it was important to learn math and science. “I realized that students might feel like I used to. They liked math, but also wondered where the applications were. I realized that robotics offered them a great opportunity to see how math, science and engineering could come to life.” Lane explains that her own daughter participated in STEM and robotics programs at the school from elementary to high school years. She is now at MIT getting a masters in artificial intelligence, with a focus on robotics. Last summer, she did an internship with Amazon, where she was working on drones. Still, males dominate the Valley Christian robotics program, at least as measured by percentage. Girls represent only about 12 percent of the participants (varying with the age group and year). Lane’s goal is to drive the ratio up to somewhere between 30 and 50 percent. “We do programs and exhibitions throughout the year so girls can see what we are doing. Being an engineer myself, I can talk about it, and bring other women from the industry to promote it. But right now, (girls’ participation is) not as high as I want it to be.” Carrillo’s daughter at Notre Dame went through the program (before Carillo was its coach) and is now majoring in a very challenging engineering program at college. Carillo says the robotics team experience helped, because it was also difficult at times. Still, she remembers the fun and rewards that came with overcoming each problem. Like Bansal and Lane, Carillo believes it’s all about showing girls what women can do in STEM, and building their confidence. “It goes a long way,” she says. Robotics is projected to be a $135 billion market by 2019, nearly double what it was in 2014.
South Bay Accent - Feb/Mar 2017
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