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Sunday, Dec 21, 2014
Brandon News

HCC Brandon robotics camp empowers future female engineers

BY ANDREA CARROZ
Tribune Correspondent

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Caroline Lamoureux wants to study aeronautics engineering.

"I always look at the night sky and thought I want to go there or help people go there," said Caroline, 11.

This week she and 21 other girls who are interested in science attended a girls-only Introductory Robotics Camp for middle school students held at Hillsborough Community College's Brandon campus.

The camp opened in 2007 after HCC Brandon received a grant from the National Science Foundation to host the Florida Advanced Technological Education Center (FLATE), said Janice Mukhia, spokeswoman for FLATE.

Every summer, the college hosts six camps, ranging from introductory and intermediate levels for middle school students to engineering level for high school students. The camps are part of an initiative to get middle and high school students excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also known as STEM skills, Mukhia said.

In 2009 an all-girls introductory camp opened. Since then, girls like Lamoureux have been exposed to a weeklong challenge of building Lego robots and programming them.

The curriculum is designed for students to get hands on experience while they learn the basic STEM skills, Mukhia said.

"The idea is to engage students and get them excited about STEM," she said.

Lexi Kelley, 11, said she wants to study robotics and engineering. Although she plays sports during the summer, she wishes she could enroll in another camp.

"I'm the type of person that when I see something I think how do they do that, how do they make that happen?" Kelley said.

Amiya Gupta, 10, is also interested in engineering. She said her father, a chemical engineering professor at the University of South Florida, inspired her to want to study in the same field.

Gupta said she has learned a lot at the camp and can now build the Lego robot her cousin gave her.

"My favorite thing is the way they teach us how to program it," Gupta said.

Greco Middle School engineering teacher Elizabeth Heli teaches the students the history of robotics and has the girls build Lego robots on the first day. Later, the students learn how to program the robot to turn and even answer to sensor commands.

"They really learn a lot of real-world skills because they do hands-on (activities)," Heli said.

Toward the end of the week, the kids go to a manufacturing company where they can see people applying some of the skills they learned.

The girls planned to visit the Publix Dairy Plant in Lakeland where they would learn the mechanical and quality control processes.

"It's not only about how stuff is made but it exposes them to the jobs that are available," Mukhia said.

All of this summer's camps are filled to capacity except the July 22-26 intermediate camp. The camp costs $150.

acarroz@tampatrib.com

Twitter: @andrea_carroz

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