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No, really! Engineering is for girls too!

Category: Option E Educating

Debbie Cosier

Submitted by Debbie Cosier on Fri 28/07/17 09:30
What happens when you get 90 girls in a room coding robots? Concentrated expressions, intense focus, runaway robots, fine tuning, more testing, animated discussions, bursts of laughter, cheers of success.
 
Using the principles of engineering – think, solve, design, create, innovate – three groups of girls from Years 5 to 9 used Lego Mindstorm to sequence a series of instructions to make their robots perform specific tasks: 
Task 1: Code the robot to perform a square (or triangle) 
Task 2: Now code it to stop when it senses an object 
Task 3: Make the robot run away from the object, constantly
…And what do you get? The basics of a self-driving car.
 
The UQ student facilitators added a different final task for the girls from Years 8 and 9. Instead of coding your robot to run away, make it chase you.… And what do you get? Robo-sumo wrestling!
 
The students spent time considering which everyday problems they would solve through the creative application of technology. How about designing a robot dog to jump on you in the morning so you don’t sleep in? What about the more complex issues, like how to stop your brother from teasing you (in a non-violent way, of course!)??
 
Their engagement in discussion and coding tasks showed that engineering can be challenging, creative and lots of fun. 
 
 

Females in Tech are pretty rare

According to Robogals Global, only 14% of people currently working in engineering and technology are female. Whether you’re looking at startup founders, investors or people in computing and technical roles, women are finding themselves in rooms full of men. 
 
There are documented reasons for this. It often starts with attitudes girls absorb about tech being a male career path from a very young age. 
 
In the field of computer science, a recent study of 1,600 participants in the United States found that women and girls are only half as likely to be encouraged to go into the field as boys. Females are also often not even told what studying computer science involves.
 
The top words those females familiar with computer science associate with it are: ‘technology’, ‘programming’, ‘future’, ‘fun’ and ‘interesting’. For those unfamiliar with computer science, the top words are: ‘boring’, ‘technology’, ‘hard’, ‘difficult’ and ‘computers’.
 
“It’s important for the industry to include more females because everybody thinks differently,” says Wilson Kong, who graduated last year from UQ with a Masters in Mechatronics (engineering and robotics) and has taken a year off to do some volunteering with Robogals. “With many ideas and many different angles in the same room, we have a better chance of solving problems the best way,” His Robogals colleague Isha Joshi is in her third year at UQ studying electrical and computer engineering: “It’s an exciting field because it can be applied to so much.”
 
The number of women in tech has actually dropped since the 1980s. So noticeable has this become that the word ‘programmer’ is often jokingly swapped for ‘brogrammer’. However, the first software engineer was a woman. Margaret Hamilton and her team developed coding for the Apollo navigation software that put the first humans on the moon in 1969. By the time the handwritten program was complete, the compiled pages stood as tall as she did!
 
[Photo: Draper Laboratory: restored by Adam Cuerden]
 

Robogals inspiring girls to take Tech seriously

To inspire today’s girls to consider engineering tomorrow, the uni-students takes Robogals’ workshops straight to the source. “We want to introduce young girls to engineering, science and technology from an early age and let them know it is a viable career path for women,” says CEO Nicole Brown.
 
“We saw the girls fully engage in this activity today. It was really great to see and I think that it changed their perspective of engineering,” says ICT Coordinator Jamin Henley who organised the event.
 
As Robogals always say: “Anyone can be an engineer! Why don’t you think about it?”
 

Responses from some of the students following the event:

Letitia Salt: “This gives girls inspiration. I like the technology about it. That was really cool.” 
 
Akouch Majok: “I might do this as a career when I grow up.”
 
Ashlee Price: “I love the way the robots reverse when they sense an object in front of them.” 
 
Helena Walker: “I think I want to become a doctor but this has been really good to experience. It opens other pathways for careers.”
 

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