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Enhancing Engineering Pathways engages girls in robotics competition, builds future workforce

April 11, 2013

Enhancing Engineering PathwaysNIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology is committed to strengthening the pipeline of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students through middle school and high school programming.

Building a pipeline of young students and funneling them into these disciplines ultimately ensures a more technically powered workforce for the future. One of the ways this pipeline grows is through Enhancing Engineering Pathways, a program funded by Motorola Solutions to engage young girls with the field of engineering.

Ten high school students who have been a part of EEP since they were in middle school chose to participate in a robotics competition for the first time this past fall.

Suma Rajashankar, and her husband, K. Rajashankar, volunteered to mentor and coach the team to help build the robot for the competition. Motorola Solutions sponsored this team, making participation in the competition possible.

The First Tech Challenge robotics regional competition was held in November, and the NIU-EEP team (#6397), named “Girls on Wheels” was selected to compete in the state championship. The goal of the competition was to make a robot that was able to pick up rings from a dispenser and place them on peg bolts at different heights.

FIRST Tech Challenge logo: Ring It Up!U.S. First hosts the competition: “Our mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.”

The robotics competition is one in a series that is meant to help students progress through the different levels of innovation and design.

“There were a lot of engineering challenges that had to be met, as it was the first time building the robot. There was a lot of thinking and teamwork that went into building this robot,” Rajashankar said. “The entire robot was built in a six- to eight-week period, and the girls did a tremendous job.”

NIU’s team, which received the PTC Design Award, was a finalist for the judges’ Software Award.

“Strengthening the Engineering Pipeline is the single most important priority for our country. Our ability to sustain and grow our economy depends upon our ability to innovate,” CEET Dean Promod Vohra said. “I am pleased that our efforts to address issues related to engineering pipeline, preparation and perception are being addressed by projects such as this. The most important component of this activity was to engage women participants into engineering projects. I am very excited about the growth of our college and programs moving forward.”

Enhancing Engineering Pathways

Because to the success of the robot and as part of a community outreach event, the team will showcase its work at the Robotic Block Party, which is being held at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Many robots from the FTC competition will be represented, and the EEP robot will be displayed Saturday, April 13. (A robot created by the NIU Robotics student organization was showcased April 6.

Of the 10 girls on the competition team, four are graduating from high school this year. Thanks to their many years of participation in the EEP program, they all are choosing engineering as their major and have applied for scholarships through FTC and the Society of Women Engineers.

“All of this goes to show that, through participation in EEP, these girls have started on the path to a STEM education,” Rajashankar said.