Last week, three members of Penn Robotics traveled across the country to share last year’s Chairman’s project with the STEM community. During the 2017 PLTW Summit.  Saturday, October 21st, students and teachers from Penn’s STEM academy and Robotics Team flew to Orlando, Florida to give a presentation about a project they started in their IED class.

Kait Kelsey, Amy Portolese, and Caroline Tiebout took the all-girls Introduction to Engineering course their freshman and sophomore years. They started the “Voice for Braylen” project in January 2016 to help a local Kindergartener with Joubert Syndrome. Joubert Syndrome is the underdevelopment of the brain, which makes everyday tasks nearly impossible, like speaking, moving, and lifting objects. By the end of the school year, they had come very close to creating a device that would help him carry his speaking tablet, but weren’t completely satisfied with the work they had done. So, the girls joined the robotics team in order to finish the job they started. After a year of hard work, and many revisions, they successfully created a device that helped assist Braylen in communicating with others.

Because of the girls’ amazing work, they were invited to speak during the PLTW National Summit, at the Orlando World Center Marriott, where 2,000 teachers and administrators from all over the country gathered to share their successes and ideas. In Penn’s presentation Amy, Caroline, and Kait discussed their class work and how their experiences shaped them as female engineering students. The presentation left a meaningful impression on the students, “The most impactful experience from the PLTW summit was during our presentation Q & A. I had the opportunity to share how beneficial it was to work with disabled kids” said Caroline. They had many messages to share: combing curriculum with ‘out of book’ projects, the importance of community based work, and the significance of giving introductory classes advanced opportunities. But, what the audience was most intrigued about was their work as an all female class. “I took the girls class because I didn’t want to have to prove myself and my work. I didn’t need to validate myself in order to have my work be respected by my classmates,” said Amy. Some adults in the room were surprised at what the girls had to say. “The female class gave me the opportunity to grow as a leader. Now that I am on a co-ed team, I have the confidence to confront my teammates when they aren’t treating me with the respect I deserve just because I am a girl,” said Kait.

Although they gave just one presentation, the girls were able to leave a much larger impact on the conversation about women in STEM. Many teachers walked away with new ideas about how to approach this topic in their own schools. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the room . . .” Jim Langfeldt said, coach and teacher of the students “. . . they did a great job”. This class has increased the number of girls who have joined our robotics team. Team 135’s coach credits its 40/60 ratio to classes like IED. It is a big step that our school has encouraged to take further. During the rest of the conference the girls listened to other high schoolers talk about the work being done elsewhere. Students from across the country spoke of participating in different research groups and project builds. It was a great experience for the girls to learn. As the trip came to an end, the girls were inspired to come home and share what they learned with the rest of the team.

Written by: Kait Kelsey

Categories: Blog

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