North Hills girls flourish in robotics programs
Two North Hills students are using their brains to create artificial intelligence.
Gianna Campanella, 13, and Kyleigh Johnston, 10, recently competed in the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Regional Championship at La Roche College, a contest that challenged teams to create autonomous robots that improve the way people find, transport and dispose of water.
Using LEGO Educational Mindstorm EV3 kits and free downloadable software, groups met every Saturday for several months at the National Engineering Center in Lawrenceville to develop hydrodynamic solutions. The students also viewed online tutorials, heard presentations from Aquabot and Sole Power inventors and took a field trip to Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN).
Campanella, a seventh-grader at North Hills Middle School, helped her team use water collection to charge a removable battery, flashlight, radio and disaster siren. Their hard work earned them a Special Recognition Award as well as second place in the Open Division for Research.
Campanella's older cousin, Conner, who is a member of a FIRST LEGO League in Michigan, inspired her to join.
“He always said how much he enjoyed it and how much he thought I would enjoy it based on my interests,” she said. “I thought it would be a great way to further my knowledge of coding and robotics.”
Johnston's team focused on ways to save and reuse wasted shower water. The Highcliff Elementary fifth-grader says her dad's job as a computer programmer sparked her interest in the field.
Both girls are members of Carnegie Mellon University's Girls of Steel Robotics Program, which was founded in 2010. In the beginning, there were about 20 high school students enrolled; today the program boasts 128 girls and boys in kindergarten through 12th-grade representing multiple FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) teams.
In addition to competitions, Girls of Steel offers workshops, summer camps and outreach activities at CMU and throughout Pittsburgh.
Dr. Terry Richards, CMU's Robotics Institute Outreach Program manager and student mentor, stresses that learning doesn't end at the end of the school day.
“After-school programs allow children to focus on subjects and activities they enjoy and meet kids with similar interests,” she said.
Campanella plans to participate in Girls of Steel throughout her high school career and register for more classes in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, subjects where girls are often underrepresented.
“I like it not only because it's fun, but because I learned that I could do a lot more than I thought I could,” she said.
A robotics kit given to her by her grandparents will keep Johnston occupied this spring, along with martial arts and music. She also plans to continue in the Girls of Steel program and attend a video game design camp at the Carnegie Science Center. “I would definitely encourage my female friends to pursue their interests in the STEM fields and I'd definitely encourage them to look into robotics,” she said. “It's been really fun, I've learned a lot and it's a good hobby.”