In the midst of the summer heat, one Lexington swimming pool has become more than a place to cool off, but instead, part of a week-long “Aquabots” engineering and computer programming summer camp for girls.
Twenty girls, mostly from Central Kentucky, are taking part in the University of Kentucky’s first-ever Aquabots Summer Camp, during which the girls work in teams of four to build a robot that can complete several “missions” in a small swimming pool.
These missions require each team to build a robot using LEGOS and special programming software to move the robot forward and backward while floating, make a figure 8 with the robot above the water, perform a figure 8 under the water, and finally, pick up an item under the water with the robot.
(Photos by Jill Seelmeyer)
“The programming is definitely difficult,” said Morgan Schmidt, a Jefferson County student who carpooled with three other girls from Louisville each day to attend the camp. “It’s definitely a new experience, because I’ve only been working with robots on land. It’s really fun to try to learn how to deal with them underwater and see how it works.”
The Aquabots Summer Camp is part of a national camp program called “Waterbotics,” which is supported by a partnership bewtween the National Girls Collaborative Project and Stevens Institute of Technology’s Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education. The camps are funded by a National Science Foundation grant.
Starting Aquabots at UK was just an extension of the work the Kentucky Girls STEM Collaborative does, said Sue Scheff, co-chair of the collaborative.
“That’s our mission — to excite girls about the possibility of doing engineering or science. Running this camp is just an offshoot of that same mission.”
One of Morgan’s teammates, Dasha Kolyaskina, said that she thinks the camp will help her with the computer programming class she has to take when she starts high school in a couple weeks.
Dasha added that working on the robots required “a lot of teamwork skills. We have to work in groups, and we’re probably going to have to do a lot of that in school, too.”
Each team had a mentor who helped guide the girls in their building and programming process. The mentors are all UK students, majoring in either engineering or computer science, said Jann Burks, 4H youth development specialist.
Burks, who recruited Morgan, along with three other Jefferson County students, said the mentors “have been instrumental” in helping the girls brainstorm and design their robots.
“There’s been a lot of redesign. Design and redesign —brainstorming the whole process,” Scheff said.
Burks also said that among the camp attendees from Louisville, none of the girls had considered engineering as a career until they got involved with the Aquabots program.
However, some of the campers came to Aquabots Camp with an existing interest in programming, such as Joy Whitten, who wants to create special effects for movies, she said.
In addition to gaining hands-on programming experience, the camp attendees also got to meet and listen to “role models” speak during the camp, Scheff said.
Each day of camp, female engineers from Dell, Lexmark and Lockheed Martin to talk to the girls about a career in the engineering field.
The Aquabots teams demonstrated what their final robot designs could do Friday afternoon to their families, as well as professionals from Lockheed Martin, in a small pool next to Good Barn on UK’s campus.
The Aquabots grant lasts through 2014, Scheff said, so the next phase of the Kentucky Girls STEM Collaborative’s plan is to expand the camp throughout the state.
“The next step of this big grant is to teach the educators how to run this camp. In the fall or early winter, we’re going to do an educator training,” Scheff said. “So, we’ll bring in educators from across the state that will go through a training so that they can then offer this camp in their hometowns.”
Interested in learning more about starting a Waterbotics camp in your town or school district? Contact Scheff at email@example.com or
Click here for more information about Aquabots and the Kentucky Girls STEM Collaborative.