From Pageant Queen to (Future) STEM Aficionada: ALL Girls Robotics Camp Bolsters a Switch!

Engaging girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics is a topic of national interest. A recent Verizon commercial stated “66% of girls in 4th grade like math and science, but only 18% of all college engineering majors are female.”  Take for instance, Kaitlyn Pankoe a 6th grader at Terrace Community Middle School in Tampa. Pankoe likes being challenged in her work, but while growing up Pankoe, like some girls her age, she wanted to be a pageant queen. All that changed when she attended the All Girls robotics camp this summer.

Indeed, the rationale and need for girls and women in STEM is clearly apparent, and is one of the many
areas FLATE has been targeting to propel women towards STEM related professions. One of the many successful dissemination vehicles employed by FLATE is the robotics camps, particularly the All Girls Robotics Camp which historically kick starts camp season every year, and is targeted to capture the interest of Girls in STEM starting at the middle school level. “The camp has got me thinking” said Pankoe. “I now want to be a veterinarian and use technology to heal animals” she said ruminating upon her switch and new found interest in STEM and robotics.

Pankoe was not alone in raving about robots. She was one of 22 girls enrolled in FLATE’s All Girls robotics camp; all were aspiring to become either a marine biologist, a doctor and even a journalist reporting on technologies of the future. The “hook” for these future STEM professionals was provided by robots, and programming it to follow specific commands to complete challenges.

The robotics camp served as a platform to fire campers’ interest in STEM, and explore their knowledge of STEM/roboticss. “I like robots because they are versatile and in general can do tasks better than humans” said Anna Seerey. To that end, the camp featured, for the first time this year, the all new Lego® Mindstorms® EV3 Robot system. From the bottle touch challenge to rainbow dash, camp curriculum was primarily designed to enhance campers’ skills needed to succeed in high-tech, STEM-related careers using a modern manufacturing setting. “This was my first time programming robots. I liked that they were fun and challenging” said Avery Surrency.

Another hands-on component of the camp was also a tour to a high-tech manufacturing facility where
students got a real-world view of what it takes to become a STEM professional and how that translates in a high-tech manufacturing setting. Campers got a taste of STEM-at-work during their visit to Publix Diary factory in Lakeland, FL. “It was interesting to see how machines and robots are programmed to work together in a production line” said Seerey . “I never thought I’d like robotics and physical sciences, but now that I am doing it I really like it. I think I will keep doing it as it’s a lot of fun” said Seerey.

In addition to an invigorating STEM experience, FLATE partnered with Suncoast Credit Union Foundation and the HCC Foundation to offer 11 scholarships, for the first time, to students from low income families to attend the All Girls camp. The scholarships were awarded on a first- come, first-served basis, and were geared to encourage/expose girls to careers in science and technology.  “Those are careers of the future and it is important for these young ladies to have those skills set as they progress on their educational/career path” said Mary Tlachac, executive director of Suncoast Credit Union Foundation.  Donna Wolski, director of development for HCC Foundation, agreed that the camp was effective in sparking student curiosity/interest in STEM, robotics and technology in general. “I would love to see some of the campers return to HCC to pursue STEM related educational pathways once they graduate from high school” Wolski said.

Response from parents of campers has been equally positive. “I was very impressed by the structure and
quality of the program as well as the enthusiasm of the girls at the camp” said Colette Glover-Hannah. In a follow-up email to FLATE’s camp director, Collette stated that the camp has helped her daughter, Elois who shared the video of her robot with her science teacher, to grow in the field of STEM.  Ramona Smart-Smith another parent wrote saying that she is thankful her daughter, Jordana had the opportunity to attend the camp. “She is a hands-on learner and it helped her engage more with her peers and work together as a team to accomplish a project” wrote Ramona. She noted “the program was structured, informational and had great teachers who sparked her interest to work harder to create a satisfactory project.”

For more information on the camps visit www.fl-ate.org/projects/camps.html, and www.madeinflorida.org, or contact Desh Bagley, FLATE outreach manager and camp director at camps@fl-ate.org. For a follow-up of the remaining camps and a behind-the-scenes look at camp instructors and assistants who inject their expertise and knowledge to make the camps run smoothly throughout camp season, stay tuned for a story in the August edition of the FLATE Focus.