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Nov. 15: Pittsburgh-area High School Girls Form Team To Build Robot, Compete in Regional Event

Byron Spice

Pittsburgh-area High School Girls Form Team
To Build Robot, Compete in Regional Event

Carnegie Mellon and PghTech Women Network(tm) Boost Tech Options For Girls

PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University's Field Robotics Center (FRC) and the PghTech Women Network(tm) have launched an all-girl robotics team, girlsFIRST, which will compete in a FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) regional event in spring 2011.

The team is made up of 26 students in grades 9 through 12 from 11 Pittsburgh area high schools, including Avonworth, The Ellis School, Jeannette, Oakland Catholic, PA Cyber Charter, PA Leadership Charter, Pine-Richland, Seneca Valley, The University School, Upper St. Clair, Winchester Thurston and a home school student. The program is intended to nurture interest among girls in robotics and in technological careers in general.

"Technology has intrigued me for some time and now that I have joined girlsFIRST, my interest in technology has grown stronger than ever," said Jaden Barney, a 10th-grader from PA Leadership Charter School. "After being able to work with some of the equipment and design programs that robotic majors use, I am now considering pursuing a career in the exciting and quickly expanding field of robotics.

"GirlsFIRST has given me the unique opportunity to learn how to work with equipment that I would normally not be exposed to, especially as a girl," she added. "Overall, I love participating on the girlsFIRST robotics team because it offers an opportunity to test a variety of different interests — so you don't have to be an expert in anything to start and you have the opportunity to gain many new skills. I am super excited to learn more about robotics, make new friends with my teammates, and build one awesome robot!"

Weekly training classes are under way at the FRC led by George Kantor, systems scientist. Also helping are Balajee Kannan, research engineer; M. Bernardine Dias, assistant research professor; Chuck Whittaker, robotics field and test engineer; David Wettergreen, associate research professor; William "Red" Whittaker, FRC director; and several graduate and undergraduate students. Construction of the robot will begin Jan. 8, 2011, at the FRC lab in Newell Simon Hall on Carnegie Mellon's campus. The Regional FIRST Competition will be held March 10-12, 2011, at the Petersen Events Center.

For more information on girlsFIRST, contact Patti Rote at Carnegie Mellon at 412-576-9742.

Though job opportunities in technical fields are increasing, enrollments of U.S. students in computer science, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (CS-STEM) programs have been declining. In addition to girlsFIRST, Carnegie Mellon is pursuing several initiatives to boost interest in CS-STEM, particularly among women and minorities. For instance, the Robotics Institute's Robotics Academy this summer began a four-year, $7 million program called Fostering Innovation through Robotics Exploration (FIRE). Sponsored by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, FIRE is leveraging robotics competitions, such as FIRST, to stoke the curiosity of middle school and high school students in science and technology.

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