By Lisa PAREDES
The teenaged girls of Rock n’ Roll Robots Team #25 recently led a three-day intensive robotics camp at the Montrose Program Center of the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles (GSGLA.)
“I really enjoy this camp because you can watch girls grow and use their skills,” said Rock n’ Roll Robots team member Tabatha Pina, a junior at Marshall Fundamental High School in Pasadena. “You also have to teach them, but you’re not doing it all for them.”
At first, campers familiarized themselves with the parts kit and learned how to program their robot. The following day of the camp included multiple workshops led by team members and adult mentors on topics such as robot mechanisms, design and build times and controlling the robot.
On the final day, after one last build session and practice matches, a tournament was held to gauge how well the different robots performed their tasks in a game.
“The summer workshop is a great opportunity for girls to ‘test drive’ robotics and find out if it’s something they would like to invest more time in,” said Rock n’ Roll Robots mentor Julie Townsend, a robotics engineer at NASA. “It’s an immersive robotics experience that introduces all the relevant technologies and concepts used by the Rock n’ Roll Robots team in their competitions.”
Drawing approximately 11 Girl Scouts from the Crescenta Valley, Pasadena, Arcadia and surrounding areas, the camp is a path for girls in eighth grade and higher to learn about robotics and engineering from both their peers and professionals.
“I really wanted to participate in the Rock n’ Roll Robotics camp because I have always been interested in science and building and figuring out how things work,” said Renee Heinrichs, a ninth grader at Arcadia High School. “And when I did robotics in school, it was lots of fun.”
“I really liked learning about programming and building a robot – learning about the different parts and how [it] all comes together to make a robot move,” added Heinrichs, who’s been a Girl Scout for more than six years. “It was really different and I’ve never done that before! I loved that the girls were teaching you and in a group you had to build your own robot using your own ideas, tools, and materials.”
Heinrichs was impressed that no set rules were followed, that the girls shared ideas and worked together to build their robot. Learning to program the robot was a new part of the experience as well for her.
The robotics workshop campers “use a computer and write a set of commands to program the robot to do and make all the movements that you want the robot to do. That part was a little challenging to me,” she said.
“When I was 13 years old, I was inspired to pursue a career in aerospace engineering by a two-week summer class that I enrolled in on a whim,” said Townsend, who has mentored Rock n’ Roll Robots since 2007. “Before that class, I had never even considered a career in science or engineering.
“Despite many changes for girls in the subsequent 25 years, it seems to me that most girls entering high school are not considering careers in science and technology, largely because they have never personally experienced the requirements, challenges and rewards of these sorts of careers.”
“I invest my time in the Rock n’ Roll Robots to provide a place where girls can experience robotics, and all of the technologies that contribute to a working robot, in a fun, safe environment that is just for girls,” she added. “And, of course, it is a lot of fun for me to spend time [working] with the girls and helping them make their robots work.”
Rock n’ Roll Robots Team #25 has been conducting the summer workshop through GSGLA in Montrose since 2009. The camp not only involves computer programming but also 3-D printing, laser cutting of metal pieces, circuitry and additional mechanical engineering skills.
“For many of the girls on my team, robotics has been a life-changing experience that has fundamentally changed the way they think about their educational and professional futures,” Townsend also said. “They are very enthusiastic about sharing their experience with other girls like them who are still waiting for that sort of inspiration.”
The girls at the workshop designed, programmed and built robots to perform basic tasks in a competitive game. Their robots moved rings to hooks and performed chin-ups, along with other maneuvers.
“The camp was also fun because the team girls were really friendly and nice to everyone,” Heinrichs said. “Usually in school, we would build robots out of Legos but instead we built them out of metal, bolts and screws. This camp was so much fun that I have decided to join the team.”
“I think the summer workshop is a particularly powerful experience for the attendees because it is a program for girls run by other girls,” explained Townsend. “The members of Team 25 organize the workshop and prepare and teach most of the coursework.“
“The girls who attend aren’t learning about robotics from a bunch of stuffy science teachers (or even fun, hip science teachers),” she added. “They are learning about robotics from girls – their peers – which makes the material uniquely accessible to them.”
Rock n’ Roll Robotics is a GSGLA FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Tech Challenge (FTC) team and is composed of approximately 15 girls from the Pasadena area.
GSGLA is also a partner affiliate for the FIRST® Lego League (FLL) for ages 9 to 14. The volunteer staff oversees 300 robotics teams for the Los Angeles area, 16 of which are Girl Scout teams, according to Melanie Larsen of the GSGLA.
According to a 2014 study mentioned by Larsen, only 22% of California students taking the AP exam in computer science are girls. Fewer STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) bachelor’s degrees are awarded to California women: engineering (18%), computer science (13%) and technology (10%.)
More information on the Rock n’ Roll Robots can be found at www.rocknrollrobots25.com. Information on the FLL and other robotics teams can also be found on the GSGLA website at girlscoutsla.org.