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Robotics hosts first annual 'Women in STEM' panel Ava Seccuro, Co-editor-in-chief

Women in the STEM field came to speak on a panel organized by the robotics team, MorTorq, to students at Beverly Vista Middle School (BVMS) last Friday.

The panelists in attendance included:

MorTorq emphasized that middle school students should join robotics upon entering high school; however, a second, more serious purpose quickly ensued: to get more girls involved in STEM electives. With five weeks left for MorTorq to build this year’s robot in time for competition, the team advertised last year’s robot. 

Left: Robotics members senior Michelle Klein and junior Elnaz Nooripour distribute index cards to students and encourage them to write their own question for the panelists. Right: Robotics members sit in the audience and reflect on the anecdotes the panelists share. Bottom/center: Robotics member senior Alex McDermott explains to the audience how last year's robot works.

The event, which was largely student-planned and run, was a "team effort," Danesh said. Last year, MorTorq decided that they wanted to take their marketing events to the "next level" by going to the middle school instead of hosting at the EDC. The business division of Mortorq spent months gathering a variety of speakers and planning the logistics in order to facilitate the panel, Danesh said.

“Every year the robotics team does community outreach relating to STEM and getting more people involved. But, last year we really saw the importance of specifically encouraging the women to join us because we would have so many events and the women were the ones that were hesitant to show up," Danesh said. "Our mission [is] really gearing [robotics] towards women and really gearing it towards making sure they’re comfortable.”

As Crane has observed more students, particularly girls, drop a STEM elective once the requirement has been fulfilled, middle school Assistant Principal Joshua Stern has recognized the same thing and said that “we need more young women in science.”

This first-annual event provided insight from professionals in the field and gave advice to students not just interested in STEM, but all areas of life.

“If you look at the role models we have, we’ve got Bill Nye the Science Guy, Mr. Wizard, Jimmy Neutron; you’ve got plenty of examples of men being leaders in the STEM field, but there’s not as many for women. For women being drawn to a STEM career, I think a lot of it has to do with the story--how does it help people? How is it beneficial? That’s not a sexist thing, that’s just the things that drive us more," Crane said. "So, having something like this [panel] and telling the story behind the work that women do, how it impacts the world, you’re more likely to get some interest, and most importantly, if women start to see it, they know they can be it. For young girls, especially, that STEM pipeline has to start young so having this in the middle school is 100 percent the right place for it.”

“Being a woman in a programming field, which is extremely male dominated, you feel a little underestimated by your peers, especially starting out when I first joined the team as a freshman. Even though no one was actively being sexist, it's very subconscious people's perceptions of women. I presented an idea, and people maybe shot it down. They thought it wasn't good until a man said," Simoni said. "You’ve got to keep pushing and proving yourself, and once you've proved yourself competent people will have confidence in you. That's I think the key to being a leader.”

“There were definitely times that I thought about giving up. Getting a PhD is a really long journey, and my motivation kind of waxed and waned at times. But, I made a promise to myself that I would finish and I also had a really long term goal," Warren said. "[What] has kind of kept me going all throughout my life was that I really wanted to be an astronaut. [That] helped me in those little day to day decisions and a week to week and month to month, year to year.”

Danesh thinks that this event will, if not increase interest in MorTorq, at least get more students involved in STEM as there will be a new STEM electives for high school students, such as Intro to Engineering Design and Aerospace Engineering (PLTW).

As robotics plans to host another panel at the middle school in a couple of months, Danesh is happy with the outcome of the event but hopes that at the next panel the speakers will address more career details and milestones.

"All the speakers were very passionate about what they do, and it was so inspiring and impactful for the students to be able to feel that passion and recognize that they could also do what they want and what they have a passion for," she said.

Top: Students listen to the answers to the questions they submitted for the panelists. Bottom left: Junior Eli Katz instructs students on how to control MorTorq's robot from last year's competition. The robot functions as a catching partner that can also throw the ball back to the human component. Bottom right: Senior Donya Noubeharestan and other robotics members give an applause at the end of the panel.

"I think there's a lot to be said for having this...big overarching goal. It really, it can drive you through so many things. I already told you guys what [mine] is: I want you guys to save the world," Crane said. "I see depressing news all the time; I can't turn on the news without seeing something about climate change. I just know that my students are going to save the world."