News Column

Girls mentor robotics team to fill gender gap

July 18, 2014

A group of middle school-age girls will spend Friday afternoon tweaking choreography as their newly created robots show off smooth moves in a friendly dance competition in Kalani High School's library.

Fifteen participants in the five-day robotics academy have spent the last several afternoons huddled around computers in the library, learning how to build and program Pi-Bot movement.

Powered by batteries and balanced on two wheels, the Pi-Bot features a chassis shaped like the Greek letter pi, sensors, gearboxes and mini­bread­boards. They're able to move semiauto- nomously.

The girls learned C Language code, a simple text-based computer programming code language, to direct their robots.

The participants' instructors are four high school girls, all members of Kalani Robotics 3008.

Camelia Lai, a Kalani High junior and program manager for the school's robotics team, said she hopes the all-girls academy will inspire young girls to pursue technology-related opportunities,

"Nowadays you don't really see girls wanting to take interest in technology," Lai said. "But I think it's really important because the people who are into technology are the ones who are going to, like, make a difference in the future. ... We need to get everyone involved ... not just the boys."

Seventh-grader Kai Corrie, who will be attending the Mid-Pacific Institute next month, said wiring her robot was a fun and satisfying accomplishment because it took "so much persistence."

The academy -- the first girls program organized by Kalani Robotics 3008 -- was made possible with an AspireIT grant from the National Center for Women and Information Technology. The initiative encourages women to design and lead computing programs for middle school-age girls.

Lai said, "I hope that by the end of this week, they'll be more interested in this kind of stuff, and hopefully they'll continue to be involved with robotics and STEM (an integration of science, technology, engineering and math studies) so that when they go to high school, maybe they can join their robotics team or start holding camps like this one for other girls."?

As instructors, Lai and Sara Naka­gaki, a Kalani High sophomore, are picking up lessons in leadership, such as how to delegate tasks and encourage creativity.

Nakagaki said, "I joined robotics because I didn't see that many girls in robotics," and that spurred her on to show the often boy-dominated teams and clubs that "girls can do robotics."

The Kalani Robotics 3008 team, which takes its name from an assigned number in an early competition, was formed in 2008 and has about 25 members. The school also has a robotics club of about 50 students.

For more stories covering the world of technology, please see HispanicBusiness' Tech Channel

Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)

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