Girls demonstrate engineering skills

Girls demonstrate engineering skills

URBANA – Evan Petty smiled as she watched her robot maneuvering down a tabletop.

After safely avoiding some obstacles, the robot (named Kevin) used a light sensor to get into position to fire a small ball through a goal.

A group of wide-eyed small children who gathered around the tabletop applauded Kevin's feat.

Evan was one of six girls, members of the Campus Middle School for Girls First Lego League team called "The Collective," who demonstrated their skills with robots for more than 40 children at the Urbana Free Library on Sunday afternoon as part of Robotics Fun Day.

"We like showing others what we do so that little kids and older people can learn more about robots," Evan said.

The First Lego League is a program for children ages 9 to 14 to encourage boys and girls to develop their researching, problem solving and engineering skills.

Carrie Wennerdahl, a co-coach of the team and a parent volunteer, said members of "The Collective" have spent the past several months building robots using a combination of Lego pieces, computers, motors and wheels; studying about biomedical engineering and Type 1 diabetes; programming their robots to complete tasks related to the subject and figuring out how to get their robots to complete as many tasks as possible within two and a half minutes.

She said "The Collective" was one of six area teams who scored high enough at a recent regional robotics competition to advance to the state finals Jan. 15 in Arlington Heights.

Dressed in matching shirts, the girls spent their Sunday afternoon explaining robots and demonstrating how they work to younger children. The fun day also included hands-on activities with older robot models, a discussion about robots and a robot storytime.

Sara Neitzke, a University of Illinois mechanical engineering student who has served as the team's coach, said the "The Collective" girls use a combination of science and their own imaginations to solve the engineering challenges of working with robots.

"The girls did all the building," Neitzke said. "I just pointed them in the right direction."

Neitzke added she believes the team's experiences will help them develop important life skills that will allow them to make positive contributions to society after they grow up.

Team member Katie Wennerdahl said she has been inspired by her experiences with robots to pursue a career in mechanical engineering.

"I've learned new things each year, and now I can actually program a robot," she said. "I love mechanical engineering."

Inspired by what they have learned over the past several months, the girls have decided to organize a fun walk in May to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

The members of "The Collective" include Evan Petty, Katie Wennerdahl, Tyra Greer, Ruby Jenks, Paula Norato and Irene Zharnitsky.

A second Robotics Fun Day will be held from 1:30 to 5 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Champaign Public Library.

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