Robot girls are off to Houston

James Riley
Editorial Director

Australia’s first all-girl robotics team, Team 4802, also known as Unidentified Moving Machines (UMM) from western Sydney’s Blacktown Girls High School (BGHS), may be just 20 days out from competing in their first global competition at the 2018 Houston World Championships, but their focus currently is raising enough money to fund their trip.

Team 4802 has set a target to fundraise at least $25,000 to help subsidise part of their trip to Houston, Texas in April and pay for the US$5,000 entry fee into the competition.

Team 4802: Will blast off to Houston if they can raise enough funds

Earlier this month, Team 4802, together with their alliance partners Barker Redbacks from Sydney’s Barker College and Raid Zero from Taipei, took out the top seed at the FIRST Robotics Australia (FRC) Southern Cross Regional Championship.

Lead mentor and career advisor at BGHS Mark Johnson said the team’s success so far was a prime example of the interest and opportunity robotics in the classroom can present to students.

“The fact that there’s any opportunity to pioneer 21st century learning and practical applications in the classroom is truly the catalyst of any type project-based learning,” he said.

Team 4802 is made up of 25 students from grade 9 to 12. According to Mr Jackson, they spend between 200 to 240 hours outside of school, which is equivalent to a HSC subject done over two years, working on their entry in the lead up to competitions.

The team was formed in 2013 as part of an outreach program with Macquarie University. Since then, the group has entered a number of robotics competitions, including the Dual Down Under, and the FRC Steamworks and Power Up competitions.

Dipshika Lal, BGHS year-10 student and this year’s co-captain was originally introduced to robotics in year 7. She said taking on the course has given her and her team mates a greater appreciation for STEAM subjects, as well as skills in relation to business management, finance, and marketing and communications.

“Robotics has opened a lot of career opportunities to us because we have to do a lot admin work. There are different aspects of the team like software, electrical, and mechanical, so that gives our girls the opportunity to choose to go into all different directions,” Ms Lal said.

“We have some people who only work on electrical and nothing else. We also have people who are all-rounders, so you get to choose what you want to do and what you want to be.”

For Ms Lal, her preference is mechanics, with plans to eventually pursue a career in civil and mechanical engineering.

She also doesn’t let the thought of being part of an all-girl team faze her either.

“When we go to competitions, we always see 90 per cent of participants are male and only 10 per cent are girls, so every time we see there’s a new girls’ team we always feel very proud to know we were the first all-girl team. I feel like we influenced other girls and showed them that it is something we’re able to do,” she said.

The girls are not only earning their stripes in the robotics community, but also at their own school.

“I’ve seen a massive change thankfully through our senior executive,” Mr Jackson said.

“We started off on the concrete floor space behind the science lab. We moved to the back corner of the library, and the big goal was to finally get our own room over the five years we’ve been doing this.”

“So the girls now have their 21st century STEM room. It’s almost finished and we’ve got enough machinery through collective supporters to be able to have a very good solid structure base for the girls to start off next year in a room that’s their own.”

The other bonus for the girls who participate in the program from years 9 to 12 is that they’re guaranteed a spot at Macquarie University when they graduate, even before they have sat the High School Certificate, Mr Jackson said.

“It opens a whole range of vocational areas for the girls in non-traditional areas. My role as career adviser is made a lot easier through this program because of the university they’re exposed to, because of project-based learning, 21st century learning, their interaction, and their application throughout this endeavour. It recognises them as ideal candidates for a university program.”

You can help the girls get to Houston by donating at the crowdsourced funding website.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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