Middle school girls program Lego robots during GE Girls camp

ERIE, Pa. — “Rrrreeer, rrrreeer!”

The sound was not coming from a swamp or a jungle but from the mouth of a computer-programmed Lego alligator.

“I’ve never done anything like this,” said Sydney Rotko, a seventh-grade student in the General McLane School District.

“Programming them to move and make noise like this is cool,” added Sammy Fellows, also a seventh-grader at General McLane. “I like it because you get to experience new things. Making this alligator was fun.”

Rotko and Fellows were two of the 50 seventh- and eighth-grade female students who attended GE Girls @ Penn State Behrend in late June. The program — one of just 20 in the world — is a weeklong science, technology, engineering and math camp held on campus. Attendees are paired with female mentors from GE Transportation. Other women — GE engineers and faculty members from Penn State Behrend — lead classroom and lab sessions.

The program is intended to introduce girls to careers and fields they might not previously have known about. In the Robotics session, participants used Lego Education WeDo Software to create their robots and program them to perform specific actions.

The alligator developed by Rotko and Fellows opened and closed its mouth to produce a growl.

In addition to programming Lego robots, attendees built electronic circuits, experimented with computer-aided design using Autodesk software, visited the college’s Yahn Planetarium, and toured the college’s 10,500-square-foot plastics processing lab. In total, they participated in more than 20 STEM activities throughout the week.

“After this week, we really hope that the girls will leave here with a different perspective,” said Melanie Ford, assistant teaching professor of computer science and software engineering and director of Youth Education Outreach at Penn State Behrend. “We want students to realize how engineering touches almost every facet of their lives. Plus, it’s great that they can learn all of this from such accomplished female mentors.”

The experience had a significant impact on Fellows, who said that she would encourage her friends to apply to attend GE Girls in the future.

“I’m only 12, so I’m not entirely sure how this will all play out, and I’ve put a lot of my energy into dancing at this point,” Fellow said. “But it’s nice that we get to come here and create things. It really has me thinking, ‘OK, maybe I do have a future in engineering,’ and I never thought about that until this week.”

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Last Updated June 29, 2018