UC Davis camp encourages tomorrow's female engineers

July 26, 2013 7:26:07 PM PDT
A summer camp at U.C. Davis is teaching middle school girls all about robots. It is part of a plan to inspire tomorrow's engineers.

When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, 8th grader Vianca Hurtado said "I want to be an engineer."

Hurtado is well on her way. In this lab at U.C. Davis, she's among 15 middle school girls learning to assemble and program robots at a one-week summer camp.

"It's really fun! I've learned how to program computers," said Kylie Cox, a 6th grader.

Before this week, hardly any of these girls had ever written code. Now, they're bringing robots to life and learning the joy of debugging.

"It's really frustrating because sometimes it's hard to find out what the error is," said Njeri Kiambati, a 7th grader.

But that frustration is where learning happens.

"They just hit all these roadblocks and one by one they knock them down and then they just hit this moment where everything works," said Alex Bittle, an assistant camp coach.

Solving problems together is key and it's a little easier without boys around.

"I think boys naturally think they are better in computers than girls. So they think that they know it right, so they try to teach the girl or command the girl," said Cassie Reyes, a 7th grader.

Instead, the only ones taking orders are the robots.

"You're telling it what to do and it listens to you, and you get to learn how to put different robots together and you can just make them do like anything," said Vianca Hurtado, an 8th grader.

The robots they're using are called Linkbots, designed right here at U.C. Davis, to teach the same kind of problem solving kids need in their science and math classes.

"We developed this modular robot that can really get a student engaged in personalized learning," said Professor Harry Cheng, the U.C. Davis C-STEM Center director.

Linkbots offer lots of different ways to solve a problem. And it's that critical thinking that U.C. Davis hopes will help these girls succeed in engineering and also in life.

"Any problem you encounter in life, I think that the logical thinking of programming can help you solve it," said Amanda Johnston, a camp coach.


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