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Two new all-girl robotics teams are helping to close the high-tech gender gap

Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Members of Get with the Program, an all-girls robotics team, nervously watch their robot move through an obstacle course during a practice tournament last Friday (from left): Roselyn Dai, Lexi Burck, Anita Oprea, Tessa DiVergilio and Bailey Tharp (between Tessa and Bailey is Anitas mom, Irina Oprea).Girlbotics is on the rise in Lake Oswego.

The creation of two new female-only teams has changed the percentage of female participants in First Lego Robotics from less than 7 percent last year to more than 30 percent this year. And these robo-savvy kids, representing all public elementary and junior high schools in town, are getting noticed.

After a practice tournament for all Lake Oswego robotics teams on Friday evening, there was a reception honoring both all-girl teams — Girls with Nerve and Get with the Program. Girls with Nerve also received the Rising Star Award at their First Lego League state-qualifying tournament at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum on Sunday in McMinnville. 

“The Rising Star Award is given to a team composed of young and/or rookie team members who the judges notice and expect great things from in the future,” said Diana Laboy-Rush, parent volunteer and team coach. “This is a huge honor for them, considering all but one of them had never seen or touched a robot or a line of code 10 weeks ago. The Girls with Nerve are 9, 10 and 11 years old, and are in the fourth and fifth grades.”Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Girls with Nerve members sing as part of their presentation during a reception Friday honoring the two new all-girls Lake Oswego robotics teams (from left): Gaby Leon, Emma Chang, Abby Monis, Cierra Ferguson and Ji Reichle.

They may not be going to the state tournament, but Girls with Nerve will be participating in Destination Imagination, a nonprofit, educational program in which student teams solve challenges and present creative solutions at tournaments.

“It’s fun, and it’s a good learning experience,” said Gaby Leon, a Hallinan fourth-grader and member of Girls with Nerve. “Girls should stand up for their right to do things like this.”

Get with the Program, which is for junior high girls, is heading to a First Lego League event on Sunday at MentorGraphics in Wilsonville. If they qualify, they get to compete in the state tournament in January.

“I feel that all of our programming should work properly, and it’s kind of exciting, but I’m kind of nervous,” said Alycia Orozco, a sixth-grader at Lakeridge Junior High. “I’m looking forward to getting a new experience in the robotics category. I liked programming and building the robot and being on the team in general.”

To participate in FLL events, teams build a robot and program it to power through an obstacle course. Teams also research a topic, which this year was “improving learning,” and then teach it to someone else. So the young robotics mavens are not only trailblazers; they’re also teachers.

Abby Monis, a Forest Hills fourth-grader, tells other girls they shouldn’t be intimidated. “Robotics isn’t as hard as they might think,” she said.

The girls have also found themselves serving as role models, even though they’re pretty young themselves.

“It’s great to be a role model to younger girls,” said Payton Brintnall, a Westridge fifth-grader, “because when they see you, they think, ‘I want to do that when I grow up.’”Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Girls with Nerve members make sure their robot adheres to its programming during a practice tournament Friday (from left): Honor Joslin, Scarlet Lemuz, Emma Cory, Ji Reichle and Gaby Leon.

At the reception last week, Girls with Nerve members discussed their project — creating wearable, light-up fashion using programming — and they handed out do-it-yourself electronics kits to school-age attendees.

Gaby’s mother, Leanne Leon, said she’s enjoyed watching her daughter collaborate in a group. “For me, it’s just great seeing them work together as a team,” she said.

Payton’s mother has loved seeing her daughter’s interest in coding bloom.

“She thought she was interested in it, and now she knows she is,” Trysha Brintnall said. “I’m so proud of her. This was a commitment. This was serious.”

At the reception, Get with the Program members discussed their research project for First Lego League: raising awareness for literacy for girls around the globe through Kenya Keys, which offers educational opportunities in impoverished areas where there are no such resources; and through The Girl Effect, which aims to improve the lives of girls through education.

None of it would have happened without Laboy-Rush, a mobile app developer whose son decided not to participate this year. Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Girls with Nerve members watch as their robot works on a task they programmed it to do (from left): Honor Joslin, Scarlet Lemuz, Gaby Leon, Payton Brintnall, Abby Monis, Emma Cory, Emma Chang, Ji Reichle, Cierra Ferguson and Team Mentor Kristin Taylor (Lakeridge 15).Other parents in the robotics program wanted Laboy-Rush’s help, but she would not take a step further with the program unless there was a girl-only team. She got two, and about 60 girls expressed interest at an open house.

“The reason they didn’t all join the team is that we explained at that event how intense the program is. At this point, some of them are meeting every day,” Laboy-Rush said.

Gaby said she would not have joined robotics if it had not been for the all-girls team. “I wouldn’t want to be on a team with all boys,” she said.

Alycia agreed, saying boys might not have agreed to a research project about girls’ education. “I think sometimes guys want it their way, and they don’t really take a girl’s opinions,” she said.

There is at least one guy who is pretty interested in Alycia’s opinion of robotics: her father, Memo Orozco.

“It’s pretty exciting,” he said. “I asked her if this was something she would be interested in, and she jumped into it and liked what it was about.”

Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Girls with Nerve members wait to find out how they did during a practice tournament (from left): Bob Heymann, president of Lake Oswego Robotics; Honor Joslin; Payton Brintnall; Scarlet Lemuz; Ji Reichle; Abby Monis; Cierra Ferguson; Gaby Leon; Todd Johnson, board member of LO Robotics; and Kristin Taylor (in back). 

By Jillian Daley
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