Each year, more than 1,000 Harris County students participate in the HCDE All-Earth Ecobot Challenge to show off their STEM skills in an environmental-themed robotics challenge. Noticeable this year was the number of all-female engineering teams in the competition. At a time when women are still underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce, programs like the Ecobot Challenge seek to inspire all students to explore STEM fields.

For many of the girls at this year’s event, the challenge was their first taste of engineering. Many were already interested in math and science, but through this challenge they were able to develop their skills in engineering, programming and leadership. Humble ISD 4th grader Courtney Daniel explained how she and her team honed a variety of skills during the challenge.

“For engineering, you need to have great math and science skills, and for Ecobot you need to have time management skills, be confident in yourself and be creative,” said Daniel.

The challenge also requires teams to be flexible and find different ways of solving problems. This is important for students to learn early on because encountering obstacles and challenging problems is in the nature of work in STEM fields. Daniel appreciates that through the Ecobot Challenge, girls can experiment with their skills in a fun, safe environment.

“This is an event for children that is really fun, so if you make a mistake, it’s okay,” said Daniel.

Baylor College of Medicine Academy (BCMA) Robotics Teacher and long-time Ecobot volunteer, Misty Kirkland, believes in addition to inspiring young girls to continue in STEM fields, the annual challenge shows students what they’re capable of and strengthens their skills.

In her Computer Science Concepts course, she watched one of her female Ecobot teams, the Dream Girls, figure out their strengths and use them to their advantage.

“Once they saw what they were capable of, their team melded,” said Kirkland. “One realized she was best at programming, while another became the team leader and kept the group organized and on track.”

The Dream Girls, made up of eighth graders Nadia Sadler, Ja’Coria Dean, Serena Hammond and Clareka Bailey, placed second overall during the 6-8 grade challenge.

“I think more girls should try engineering. Don’t second guess yourself and underestimate your abilities,” said Sadler, the team’s leader. “You can do anything you put your mind to.”

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