‘Building Bridges:’ Johnston Co. High School Robotics Team Is Closing the Gap in STEM

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) – A Johnston County Girls High School robotics team is working to close the gender gap in the STEM and STEAM fields.

The Charlotte Motor Speedway held its annual event steam exposure on Friday and hosted more than 1,500 first through twelfth grade students from North Carolina and South Carolina.

Students had the opportunity to participate in hands-on demonstrations, meet race car drivers, and learn about career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, art, and math.

“We have such a variety of jobs here that we try to expose kids to what is potentially in store for them in the future. Not all children go to college and we talk to them about that too. [plus] all the other races, like Ford Performance, which is a great example. They have schools that they will pay to come learn to be mechanics in their shop,” said STEAM Manager Babette Huitt.

One of the more than 40 participants in the exhibition was G-force robotics which is made up of 12 high school students in Johnston County who are passionate about STEM and getting more women involved in the STEM field.

“Without things like this, sometimes people have no idea what they can do and it’s important to show them, yes, you can do this, you can be an engineer, you can be a computer scientist, you can do whatever you set your mind to. ”, said Claire Fendrick, a member of G-Force Robotics.

Claire Fendrick is one of the team members and says her passion for STEM and STEAM education started in high school when she took a Snap Circuit course for her science class. She is now in the ninth grade and, through G-Force Robotics, she wants to ensure that other girls have exposure and access to the same opportunities.

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“It’s really important to give younger girls those opportunities to learn what they love, especially when it comes to STEAM,” Fendrick said.

Her teammate, Kaitlyn Nolte, says she wanted to be an engineer her whole life and noticed the lack of representation since high school.

“In my high school robotics, I was the only girl out of about thirty people,” Nolte said.

G-Force Robotics was created in April 2022 and is a flagship program of the Jonhston County 501c3 Girls STEM Initiative. They are the third female team in the state and will participate in the NC FIRST robotics competition.

Since April, they have volunteered more than 800 hours of their time to educate younger students about career opportunities in STEM through outreach efforts like the STEAM Expo and recently designed and built a wheelchair ramp for a disabled veteran. .

“It’s been fantastic, it’s really helping me prepare for my future career as an engineer. I feel like I’m getting a huge advantage that a lot of other people don’t get a chance to have,” Nolte said.

Additionally, they offer short hybrid technology courses for girls in grades 5-8 as part of their “Girls Teach Tech” program and also partner with global engineering firms to support STEM literacy in libraries and schools through his “Be That Engineer Book Project” program.

G-Force students are also assigned a mentor to help them with the business and marketing aspects of their organization.

T’yanna Rouse combined her passion for aerospace and aviation with her career in public relations to help guide the girls in G-Force, and it’s an opportunity for her to learn from them too.

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“What I have the opportunity to do is teach girls different ways to venture into the STEM workforce by using non-technical skills like marketing, communications and social media to further break into that industry,” Rouse said.

According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, K-12 male students were 21% more likely to take engineering courses compared to 8% of female students. Fendrick hopes that more equal opportunities will emerge in STEM for women.

“It’s really important to keep those numbers going up because there needs to be an equal number of men and women in STEAM because STEAM is genderless,” Fendrick said.

Both students say they are excited about future learning opportunities and the favor of other students across the state.

“I think it’s great to have role models of female engineers that you can look up to and I sincerely hope we’re building bridges for younger girls to follow in our footsteps,” Nolte said.

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