A Future Powered by Girls

Community support fuels opportunities for Girls of Steel robotics team

By Sarah Burke

When it comes to raising the next generation of women in STEM, it takes a crowd.

A successful CMU Crowdfunding project last fall made it possible for CMU’s Girls of Steel robotics team to flex their creative and technical muscles. The team raised more than $11,000, exceeding their goal and enabling them to attend a regional FIRST Robotics Competition this year.

“We’re always pleased when we can offer a trip such as this to all students — including those who would otherwise not be able to travel due to economic reasons,” says Theresa Richards, the Girls of Steel outreach program manager. “For the past 10 seasons I have been able to watch our students learn, grow and succeed on so many levels.”

Girls of Steel’s mission is to empower everyone, especially women and girls, to believe they are capable of success in science, technology, engineering and math. CMU faculty, staff and students mentor the girls as they build not only a robot, but confidence and leadership skills.

The high school students on the team serve as teaching assistants in K-8 school settings, acting as positive role models and sharing their robotics knowledge with younger girls.

Although Girls of Steel’s on-campus programs are on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, they continue to organize virtual meetings. This month, the group hosted an online panel of four women in STEM careers as part of their FIRST Ladies initiative.

“FIRST Ladies has allowed us as a team to connect to other women around the world and increase our reach to our community and others supporting females in STEM,” says Aeryn A., a high school junior and co-director of FIRST Ladies.

Support from foundations, organizations, businesses and individuals is helping Girls of Steel build a strong future as a community resource.

“I love being part of a movement that inspires the ‘you can do anything’ mindset. It’s truly exciting to feel confident and capable of success in fields that are commonly regarded as male-dominated.” Aditi S., high school sophomore and Girls of Steel participant

CMU’s Field Robotics Center launched the Girls of Steel team in 2010, and 80 percent of Girls of Steel alumnae are majoring or working in STEM fields.

Mechanical and biomedical engineering alumna Bridget Soderna (E 2019) served as a mentor for Girls of Steel throughout her CMU education. She found it rewarding to spark participants’ passion for engineering — and to stay connected with the FIRST Robotics program she had enjoyed as a high school student.

“I’ve seen how this program can develop generations of student-mentors and great relationships between them,” she says. “I look forward to seeing how the teams continue to grow.”

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