Full STEAM ahead for girls

  • April 29, 2022

A predominantly female robotics team from Toronto’s St. Oscar Romero Catholic Secondary School is helping to expand the face of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM).

The team of roughly 20 students, more than 80 per cent of whom are female, was introduced to robotics for the first time this school year and finished with a silver medal at the regional championships held at Humber College in March. With no previous knowledge, they built a competitive robot that was able to collect cargo, throw balls with precision and climb a series of monkey bars. 

A culturally diverse team as well, teacher lead Michelle Presotto, is confident their accomplishments have already motivated younger girls in the school to get involved in robotics.

“The girls were picking up drills and cutting metal with goggles and by the time we were done (training them), we were standing back and getting out of their way,” said Presotto. “It was really impressive to see their growth. They may not be aware how they are going to inspire other girls in the school to see potential aspects of themselves and want to join simply because they see role models in front of them.”

To enter the competition, high school teams were challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills and build and program an industrial-size robot to play a difficult field game against like-minded competitors. To tackle the real-world engineering challenge, volunteer professional mentors guided each team.

The school has taken an active role in addressing the gender gap through its robotics program which develops key skills that are needed for furthering educational opportunities at post-secondary institutions. The team divided up the tasks with one group focusing on programming the robot and another on the building. Programming includes integrating coding into the build for the robot to move forward, extend the climber and lift its arm. The build team focused on aspects like the frame, motors and wiring.

During competition teams are tasked with troubleshooting problems on the spot, which involved drilling and recoding under pressure.

“We have five, maybe 10 minutes to take apart, rebuild and I can’t tell you how (our students) stepped up and just took control,” said Joe Longa, a teacher lead. “It’s incredible. We’ve had several teams in the past, but we’ve never made this much progress..”

The school is thrilled to see girls embracing robotics and for exemplifying the capacity of girls in STEAM. Rosemary Salgueiro, a Grade 12 student and the programmer and driver of the team’s robot, observed most other teams were still predominately male. While it’s been a good feeling to be a part of a team helping to increase representation in engineering and science, she says they did well because their commitment to the task.

“What it took to (do well) in the competition was not based on our gender,” said Salgueiro. “We just liked robots and wanted to do the work. We were able to commit to the time, going to meetings after school. We just did the work.”

Grade 10 students Nardos Solomon and Noemi Gaitan-Ruiz were so inspired by their first experience as part of the robotics team they both would like to pursue careers in STEAM one day. Both part of the build team, Solomon would like to pursue a career in computer science and programming and Gaitan-Ruiz is interested in becoming an aerospace engineer.

Longa believes the strength of the team was not in their gender but in their ability to effectively work as a team.

“They were doing it together.”

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