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AquaBots camp gives girls glimpse at science, technology, math and engineering careers

Participating in Aquabots from left to right are: Divya Sunderam, Keziah Thomas and Katie O'Niell. (Photo from UK)

Participating in AquaBots from left to right are: Divya Sunderam, Keziah Thomas and Katie O’Niell. (Photo from UK)

By Jenny Wells
Special to KyForward

Nineteen girls from grades seven to 11 participated in AquaBots, a STEM camp (science, technology, engineering and math) designed just for girls. Hosted by the Kentucky Girls STEM Collaborative and the University of Kentucky, the camp teaches the girls about underwater robotics, or “waterbotics,” using the Lego Mindstorm system.
Student mentors, faculty and staff from UK, as well as an engineer from Lexmark, worked with the girls as they designed, built, programmed and tested their own robots. Now in its second year, the camp is designed to promote interest and enjoyment of science and engineering study in junior high and high school girls.
Vanita Fitzwater, a seventh grader at Boyle County Middle School, attended the camp to see if she saw a future for herself in the STEM disciplines.
“I wanted to see what I would want to do in the future, like as a career,” she said. “When my parents told me about this camp, I thought it was something I’d want to get involved in. The programming part is pretty interesting. For me, I like seeing the end result, how it all turns out. People say ‘oh guys are better at this than girls’ but I don’t believe that. I think this is a great thing to do if some girls are interested in STEM. I think it would be a great experience for them.”
Bruce Walcott, the lead instructor for AquaBots and UK professor of electrical and computer engineering, was the only male at the camp, a scenario he doesn’t usually find himself in.

Participating in Aquabots from left to right are: Caroli Garcia, Yulien Shapla-Priddy and Daniela Zieba. (Photo from UK)

Participating in AquaBots from left to right are: Caroli Garcia, Yulien Shapla-Priddy and Daniela Zieba. (Photo from UK)

“It really puts me in a position that a lot of our young ladies in engineering are in,” he said. “I get to feel a little bit of the intimidation that our young ladies feel that go through engineering, who are historically underrepresented.”
Divya Sunderam, a seventh grader at Winburn Middle School in Lexington, found some of the camp activities challenging, but fun.
“I thought the programming part was a bit hard, but I like learning how to put things together,” she said. “It was really fun to build these robots out of Legos.”
Erin Walden, a junior in civil engineering at UK, was one of the student volunteers who worked with the girls. She participated in STEM camps as a child and experienced firsthand the positive impact they can have.
“Because I participated in these types of camps, I knew I wanted to pursue engineering and came to college with that in mind,” she said. “It’s so important to encourage girls and show them that even though they may receive other messages — that maybe this isn’t something they can do — these kinds of camps show them that, yes, they can do this, and it’s fun. So it’s good to give them the chance to try it.”
Elizabeth Skeans, a sophomore at Paintsville Independent High School, already knows she wants to be an engineer, but isn’t quite sure what kind. She says the camp helped her learn about different aspects of engineering that she didn’t know about before.
“This camp has opened the field up to me more. Now that I’m here, I understand it better,” she said. “And I like that it was just for girls, because at other camps, where there are mostly boys, the teaching and examples are usually geared toward them. But at this camp, everything was geared toward us.”
Skeans also made many new friends.
“My group was the best part of the week for me. Our personalities worked well together and we all became friends. I would encourage other girls to try this camp. There aren’t a whole lot of us, which means instructors take more time to individually teach us what we need to know.”
Click below to see a short video of the camp:


AquaBots is supported by the National Girls STEM Collaborative, Cooperative Extension Service and 4-H Youth Development. Additional support for the camp comes from Lockheed Martin and AT&T to support scholarships and camp supplies. Over the last three years, Lockheed Martin has also provided annual grants to UK for STEM programs and presented a $3,000 donation at the camp’s showcase event last week.
For more information about STEM for girls in Kentucky, click here. For more information about the UK AquaBots Summer Camp, click here.
Jenny Wells is part of the College of Engineering at the University of Kentucky and wrote this for UKNow where it first appeared.

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