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Robotic Kangaroos and Egg Cars Help Girls Learn About STEM at UA

Jalyn, Leah, John Botosan
Jalyn (right) and Leah Botosan say their father, John, is the one who first got them interested in STEM, but events like the one at the University of Akron are great for getting hands-on experience.

About 70 girls in grades 6 through 10 turned out at the the University of Akron for its eighth annual event for girls interested in engineering and science.

Hannah Kincaid, a 6th-grader from Norton, was among those participating in “Inquire! Innovate! Invent!” on Saturday. She and a friend built a small car using popsicle sticks, plastic wheels, cardboard and cotton balls, with the goal of rolling down a 6-foot ramp with an egg inside – and not having the egg break. She was ecstatic when she discovered the egg was unbroken, and she says students – especially girls – need more events like the one at the University of Akron to build an interest in engineering.

“There should be more extracurricular, after-school clubs for STEM for more ladies who want to be engineers.”

Along with the egg-car challenge, the girls also built a small, plastic, robotic kangaroo from a kit, for which they also learned how to solder battery leads. 

Heidi Cressman is director of UA's Women in Engineering program. She says that when she started in 2007, women made up about 10 percent of the college of engineering. This year, that number is up to 25 percent. She says increasing that number even further will require mentoring and events like the one on Saturday.

“Particularly when they’re this age – which is middle school and early high school – they’re still not feeling very confident about their abilities. Particularly when it comes to mechanical things [and] electrical things. So we try to work with them so that we can develop them and make them feel more confident and make them feel like they can actually do these things.”

The annual science, technology, engineering and math day grew out of an event for Girl Scouts. The scouts are adding a new engineering badge next year, and Cressman says in January the University of Akron will hold another STEM event just for them.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.