It is the first season of the first all-female robotics team in the Westfield Robotics Club, and the 12 young women are positively charged.
“Being part of a co-ed team last year gave us a good start. We realized we had certain skills and wanted to learn more,” said Trisha Mukhopadhyay, 15, a sophomore at Academy of Allied Health Sciences. “We also wanted more autonomy and freedom to make our own decisions.”
Added Rachael He, 15, a sophomore at Westfield High School: “After forming our team, we encountered many obstacles, but we’ve been able to learn a lot from our mistakes and persevere.
The all-female team, called Positive Charge, includes 12 young women from Westfield. Nine attend Westfield High School, and one each from the Academy of Allied Health Sciences, the Union County Magnet High School, and UCTECH. Four of them visited Montclair State’s Feliciano School of Business – MakerBot Innovation Center recently to receive assistance 3D printing parts of their robot.
The young women are participating in the FIRST Tech Challenge. In one of their strategies to win points in this year’s FTC game CASCADE EFFECT, they want their robot to pick up balls and put them into a bucket. The young women had ideas on how to make the shovel and bucket- even building prototypes, but they needed help making the items more efficient for the collecting task, which is where 3D printing entered the picture. Westfield High School has only one 3D printer—and it was not able to make big items. The Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship’s innovation lab has 35 3D printing devices, including three printers that make large items.
“And it made it look cool,” said Anna Masciandaro, 15, a sophomore at Westfield High School, about how the 3D printed pieces will help their robot.
The young women marveled at the rows of 3D printers housed in the innovation lab, and the whirring buzz the machines make. The girls already knew how to CAD on a different software, but Prof. Iain Kerr helped them learn how to use the MakerBot software in the Feliciano innovation lab. In the lab, the high school girls also saw various 3D prints, such as a lamp and stool made by students in ENTR 290-02, “Intro to 3D Printing and Design.”
“It gave us inspiration for other ideas. It let us see new possibilities and even gave us some new ideas,” said Trisha, adding about Kerr: “He was very good at showing us what to do and pointing out important but overlooked steps – like making sure we are using the right units of measurement! He’s very patient.”
With their all-girls robotics team and embrace of science and tech classes, the four Westfield girls are doing their part to turn a tide where women are underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. Rachael said she has been interested in STEM for as long as she can remember, but she is not entirely decided on a specific field. Possibilities include medicine, computer science, and engineering, including biomedical engineering and computer engineering. Trisha wants to use technology and materials in health interventions, perhaps as a biomedical engineer or endocrinologist. Anna is not sure yet about her future career—she may want to be a doctor or an author.
“I’ve heard girls say ‘I’m so bad at math,’ as if they’re proud of it. You shouldn’t be proud of that. You should want to get better at math,” said Julia Hollosi, 14, a freshman at Westfield High School, who wants to be a spacecraft engineer. Julia recalled how she walked into her eighth-grade robotics class and had the boys ask her why she was taking the class, and whether it was because the art classes were full.
“The boys in Westfield’s club have been very helpful,” said Trisha. “They showed us the ropes last year and helped us gain the knowledge we needed for starting our own team. Some of them go out of their way to help us.”
The underrepresentation of females in STEM classes is not necessarily better at the high school level. Anna said she is one of three girls, out of 20 students, in her computer science class. “It feels like I have to prove something, sometimes,” she said.
The Westfield Robotics Club is hosting a robotics meet on January 10th, 2016 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Spectator admission is free.
The eight other young women on the robotics team are: Fiona Gillespie, Anna Glueck, Christine Rogers, Jennifer Rogers, Ashley Rosen, Linzy Rosen, Saranya Turimella and Amanda Zhang.