Symposium Offers Educational & Career Options in Technology & Robotics for Girls

There is a song in the Disney Junior channel which beats to the tune of “you can be who you want to be.” That was exactly the kind of message 36 girls enrolled in the PACE program received during their one day visit to FLATE’s, Careers in Technology and Robotics Workshop.  The workshop was held in August and involved PACE students and teachers from Manatee, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, and Polk counties. PACE Center for Girls, Inc. is a not-for-profit 501(c) 3 corporation that provides a non-residential delinquency prevention program in locations statewide, targeting the unique needs of females 12 to 18 who are identified as dependent, truant, runaway, delinquent, or in need of academic skills. Its purpose is to intervene and prevent school withdrawal, juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancy, substance abuse and welfare dependency in a safe and nurturing environment. (Source: PACE website)

During the day long visit to FLATE’s manufacturing and engineering technology laboratory at Hillsborough
Community College in Brandon, the girls programmed Lego® Mindstorms® robots, and got an overview of educational and career pathways in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). “Our goal is to provide students with hands-on robotics experiences while emphasizing how robots are used in manufacturing” said Desh Bagley, outreach manager for FLATE.  To that effect, students got a wealth of information on applications of robotics technology in everyday settings and in manufacturing operations, and witnessed a demo of the NAO humanoid robot in action. To give a real-world view of engineering and technical professions, Dr. Sylvia Thomas, professor of electrical engineering at the University of South Florida in Tampa, gave a first-hand account of a “day in the life of an engineer,” and the skills set and knowledge required to pursue STEM based careers and educational pathways. “I'm here to encourage each of you to dream and to become the great young ladies that you are” said Thomas.

With that in mind, the girls were encouraged to dispel the myths associated with becoming an engineer and/or
STEM professional. The students also got an overview of local high-tech companies, like Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney, Featherlite, Tampa Armature Works and Tropicana that they could work for in the future.  “It’s all about discovering who you are and the choices that you have” Thomas said.

Preliminary survey from the workshop showed more than 90% of the students agreed/strongly agreed that the workshop made them think about how STEM is used outside the classroom. More than half the participants also agreed/strongly agreed that the workshop made them consider a career in advanced manufacturing. More than 90% of the respondents also stated learning about robotics made them think about the applications of automated systems in advanced manufacturing settings.

For more information on FLATE’s robotics programs for middle and high school students, visit www.madeinflorida.org, or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE at barger@fl-ate.org and Desh Bagley, outreach manager at bagley@fl-ate.org. For information on PACE Center for Girls visit www.pacecenter.org.