Robotics Club gears up for Girl Powered STEM event
By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Gooey gak is back – and so is the Girl Powered STEM Workshop.
For the second year, fourth through eighth grade girls can get in touch with their inner scientist, mathematician, technology guru or engineer at the free event, which starts at 8:30 a.m. Saturday in Room 224 of the Technology Building (register here). The workshop happens just a week before the United Nations International Day of the Girl, and October also happens to be Women and Girls in STEM Month.
GCU’s Robotics Club, inspired by VEX Robotics’ Girl Powered initiative, first partnered with K12 Educational Development, VEX and the Robotics Education Competition Foundation in 2018 to bring the Girl Powered STEM Workshop to campus.
“Girls make up only 23 percent of VEX participants, and women represent 24 percent of the STEM workforce,” according to VEX. “It’s easy to shrug it off as ‘girls don’t like that stuff,’ but that’s simply not true. Studies have shown that girls and boys show equal interest in science and math in elementary school, and show that girls lose interest in middle school for a variety of reasons.”
To change the tide of girls ebbing away from STEM careers, VEX Robotics started the Girl Powered initiative.
Ed Koeneman, who teaches electrical engineering technology in GCU’s College of Science Engineering and Technology and is the University’s Robotics Club advisor, said he was speaking to one of his students who shared a story she heard at a K12 Educational Development outreach event.
“One of the little first graders (at the event) said her brother told her that she couldn’t be an engineer because she’s a girl,” Koeneman said. “We want to have that awareness at an early age that STEM is not exclusive to boys.”
The workshop, which has spots open for 25 girls, will include a panel discussion by three women who work in STEM careers:
Dr. Janet Brelin-Fornari, Associate Dean of Engineering at GCU. Brelin-Fornari is a mechanical engineer who started her career at General Motors, where she served as an expert witness for product liability lawsuits against GM and did collision analysis and accident reconstruction. She started her career in academia at Kettering University in Flint, Mich. (formerly General Motors Institute), where she served as the director of the University’s Crash Safety Center and its Center for Integrated Learning Experiences. Her passion these days is in pediatric crash safety and, for the last eight years, she has worked with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in developing a side-impact standard for child seats.
- Amy Peters, Senior Director of Mission Assurance Engineering for Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, is a returning speaker who told last year’s workshop participants about her job launching rockets. “I get to launch really big ones. We get to launch the International Space Station. … We take supplies to them. We launch satellites into space. I get to verify that a rocket is ready to go,” said Peters.
- Andrea Pedersen is a landscape architect with Studio DPA Planning and Landscape Architecture. Koeneman said there’s a lot more science that goes into landscape architecture than people might think. “You have utilities under that landscaping, and drainage,” he said.
In addition to the panel of STEM speakers, students attending the workshop will program LEGO robots at a LEGO MindStorm station, build a simple electric motor, and make a slimy concoction called gooey gak, a non-Newtonian fluid that acts like both a solid and a liquid, depending on the force applied to it.
“It’s incredibly important to host STEM events on university campuses, especially for girls,” said Corinne Araza, K12 Stem Outreach Director. “They need to see events, activities and professionals in these industries as they grow with their education. Girls are deciding their professions as early as the fourth grade, and if they aren’t exposed to professional women in these fields, they are less likely to believe they, too, can be a robotics engineer, for example.”
Participants will have plenty of opportunities on Saturday to connect with women in the STEM fields — not only with speakers such as Brelin-Fornari, Peters and Pedersen, but with students such as Makayla Jewell, president of the Robotics Club and a biomedical engineering major.
About 30 members make up the GCU Robotics Club this year.
Following Saturday’s Girl Powered STEM Workshop, the club will start ramping up its preparations for the first big VEX Robotics competition of the semester, coming up Nov. 2 at Embry Riddle University.
“We’ve got a lot of momentum,” Koeneman said.
Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.