Welcome to Driven’s Mobility Moments Podcast where we talk with the people building the mobility ecosystem in the Detroit region. I’m Claire Charlton and today I’m spending time with a little robot that is playing an important role in building our future STEM talent.
This is the sound of a Lego EV3 robot named Bear. Bear is being programmed and tested by a group of Girl Scouts during a summer robotics session at The Mercado community center in Southwest Detroit. Bereni, Avril, and Kristal are fifth and sixth grade Girl Scouts juniors and cadets who offered to show me how their robot works.
(Scouts describing program)
So this one’s for the sensors and this one’s for the wheels that we’ve got to use. So you only need the steering wheel and if you wanted to go backwards you could only put it down and you can put it up 100%
The Scouts set up a challenge for themselves, in this case making the robot navigate around an obstacle like a bag full of USB cords that they’ve put in the center of the room.
We can make it go in circles or go around things.
Yeah.Yeah, so we put a hat on the floor, but we can put the bag and then it can go around it.
Okay, let’s try that, shall we?
They program their robot on a tablet, refine their code, and then test it. Again. And again. And again. At just 10 and 11 years old, these girls already have considerable experience with robotics. Their team earned a place at the State Robotics Championships last year. In fact, they can cover their green Girl Scout uniforms with badges in things like coding and cybersecurity and space science. It’s all part of a push to expose young Girl Scouts to STEM experiences.
Telva McGruder is chair of the board of directors at Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan. I asked her what’s behind this initiative.
Even in 2019 families and parents don’t necessarily have as their first thought for their daughters engagement in STEM-related activities. They want their daughters to be great in science and in math and things of that nature, but they don’t necessarily know how to, or even sometimes consider how to make that connection for their girls early in life. And Girl Scouts begins at kindergarten age for young girls and continues through high school, so what the Girl Scouts wants to do is build girls of courage, confidence, and character that make the world a better place. And when we think about today’s world we want to engage girls really early in science and math and different types of technology and engineering access so that they absolutely can fulfill that mission in the future.
McGruder explains that, as an organization, Girl Scouts recognizes the importance of accessibility to STEM experiences beyond what girls might learn in school.
You know, that hands on is what we’re all about, and it is very much unlike what you learn in a book. It’s where they can really see math applied, particularly if they’re on a robotics team, for example, and they’re trying to get their robot to travel a certain distance and then turn to the left, it’s where they can apply what they learned in school about distance to the coding of the robot. And then they see it happen and then they realize how to adjust, subtle things that help them understand geometry. You know, what’s the point of that center point? What’s the reason that that radius of that circle is important? And when they can apply it to an actual physical thing it’s really amazing how it changes their learning at school as well.
In addition to her role with Girl Scouts, McGruder is director of workplace engineering and operation solutions for the sustainable workplaces organization at General Motors. McGruder knows a fair amount about capturing the attention of young girls and sharing with them how rewarding a STEM career can be. She has blended her own automotive engineering experience with her history with Girl Scouts.
I’ve had a lot of varied experience with General Motors over the years, in manufacturing and in manufacturing engineering, and what I’ve learned during that time is I haven’t only picked up skills for myself, but I have been able to gain insight on what kind of thinking is most important, in problem solving, in collaborating. I have gained insight in what kinds of personalities come together to solve problems and what kinds of technical knowledge are really relevant in our world today and in our automotive industry in particular.
And that has really excited me when I continue my community service activities and I work with students on robotics teams in the Girl Scouts, and I’m able to give them insight into what’s important. Why is it okay if you can’t figure it out right away? It absolutely inspired me to originally join the board of directors for the Girl Scouts. Being a Girl Scout myself growing up, and then I was a Girl Scout Leader, I saw that I had things that I would be able to contribute to the Girl Scout mission by virtue of what I had learned at General Motors.
When it comes to talent development for future mobility, McGruder says talent and industry should grow together.
The future of the automotive industry is quickly evolving, and we’re changing at a pace that we have never changed at before. And when you have change going at that rate it is really, I’ll say, critically important that we pay attention to the talent that’s being developed outside of our official boundaries so that that talent merges with the change that we’re creating.
McGruder says schools, after school programs, clubs and partner organizations of all kinds should capture interest at a very young age, the earlier the better.
What’s important for all companies, and definitely within the automotive industry given the change that we’re going through, is that we are paying attention to the pipeline from a very early age, that we’re helping people understand the pace of the change and what the future looks like, and gain confidence that they can be part of that change so that they will matriculate into a university that will offer them that endgame before they enter into the auto industry. So if we start too late, that’s not going to be good for the future of Southeastern Michigan, not good for the future of Detroit, and so we start early.
The wide range of experiences available to Girl Scouts here in Southeastern Michigan exposes them to aspects of the diverse job categories needed in our mobility industry’s future, McGruder says.
We consider what’s going in Southeastern Michigan right now and the efforts that are being made in the mobility industry and in automobility, this is a multifaceted future that we’re looking at, so it’s not just about the vehicles. A lot of times, when people think about the future of the automotive industry, they’re going to naturally think about the vehicle, but we also have to consider the entire supply chain and all of the software development and technology development that goes into those vehicles in one way or another.
So we are committed to developing badges with the Girl Scouts that help them understand all of the facets of the automotive industry and the future mobility and not just, let’s say, the high level things that are often considered in a vehicle. It’s certainly a “yes, and” story and we believe in partnerships and relationships in the automotive industry, to the extent that those partnerships and relationships can be utilized in the development of girls as they take on badges that are based on mobility and automotive. In the future we will use those relationships to ensure that those offerings are strong and of high quality to young ladies so that they can be prepared to make the world a better place.
Problem solving, teamwork, analysis, perseverance; these are all skills Kristal, Avril, and Bereni are building through robotics. In another 10 years they may be starting jobs in Michigan’s mobility industry, but today, they’re really having fun.
Thanks for listening to this episode of Driven’s Mobility Moments podcast, where we talk with the people building the mobility ecosystem in the Detroit region. Join us for lots more mobility news at Driven, www.detroitdriven.us. Subscribe to our newsletter. I’m Claire Charlton, talk to you again soon.