Engaging Girls in STEM

By Simone V., June 8, 2017

The Green Machine on May 17th hosted a robot demo for the South View Middle School GEMS (Girls Excelling in Math and Science) club. A total of 15 girls from grades 6-7 attended the demo, which was held in Team 1816’s robot build space within the Edina High School theatre workshop.

GEMS is an international organization that aims to encourage young women to become engaged in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields. The first GEMS club was founded in 1994; today the organization has helped to kickstart dozens of GEMS and Jr. GEMS clubs across the nation, including several housed within Minneapolis Public Schools.




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The South View GEMS club was founded in part by science teacher Janel Weiland, who was approached by a group of students seeking to form an all-girls, STEM-related club. “I thought [the club] would be a good fit,” said Weiland. “It was something I felt I could do to help the girls on their pursuit of science and engineering.”

According to the National Science Foundation, women overall remain underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce, with the greatest disparities occurring in engineering, computer science, and the physical sciences. Although women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, only 29% of those in the science and engineering fields are women. Engaging girls and teens before they get to high school and college is critical.

It was Weiland’s interest in immersing the girls in STEM that led her to work with The Green Machine to organize a robot demo for the club. The Green Machine brought out the 2016 robot, Zenith, and gave a brief talk regarding how the team was able to build the robot within the 6-week build period. The girls got a closer look at the robot when team members demonstrated how the robot’s ball-shooting capabilities.

Later, team members answered questions the GEMS club members had about the robot and about FIRST and joining the team itself. A frequently-asked question was whether or not joining the FRC team would be a challenge. “It’s a different experience going from middle school to high school,” said team co-captain Allison S., “But it’s definitely worth it to meet so many new people and be part of such an engaging program.”

There are FIRST programs for students in all grade levels. For student in middle school through grades 9, FIRST LEGO League and FIRST Tech Challenge teams are starting to form for the 2017-18 season. Students may register their interest by filling out a Google form here:

Other topics discussed ranged from what competitions are like to what sorts of parts are used to build the robot. The team was able to explain the 3D-printed parts that come from sponsors Stratasys, HID Global, and Proto Lab.

The robot demo served as a means of inspiring GEMS members to continue on a pathtowards STEM careers. Many of the girls expressed interest in these and left the demo wanting to join Team 1816 in high school.

“The [GEMS demo] was extremely important because we got to expose girls interested in math and science to the engineering aspect of both subjects,” said team member Morgan S., “This demo was different than any of the other activities these girls have been a part of, and it got them excited about joining a FIRST team in the future.”