‘Building bridges:’ Johnston Co. all girl, high school robotics team is bridging the gap in STEM

G-Force Robotics is the third all-girl team in the state.
G-Force Robotics was created in April 2022 as a flagship program of the Johnston County STEM Girls Initiative.
Published: Oct. 7, 2022 at 7:36 PM EDT

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A Johnston County all-girls, high school robotics team is working to eliminate the gender gap in the STEM and STEAM fields.

The Charlotte Motor Speedway held its annual STEAM Expo on Friday and hosted more than 1500 first through twelfth-grade students from North 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 mathematics.

“We have such an array of jobs out here that we try to expose the kids to so they know what’s potentially down the road for them. Not all kids go to college and we talk to them about that too [plus] all of the other careers, like Ford Performance, which is a great example. They have schools where they’ll pay for them to come to learn how to be a mechanic at their shop,” said S.T.E.A.M. manager Babette Huitt.

One of the expo’s more than 40 participants was G-Force Robotics which is comprised of 12 female high school students in Johnston County who have a passion for STEM and getting more women involved in the STEM field.

“Without stuff 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 put your mind to,” said G-Force Robotics member Claire Fendrick.

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

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

Her teammate Kaitlyn Nolte says she wanted to be an engineer her entire life and noticed the lack of representation as early as middle school.

“Back in my middle school robotics, I was the only girl out l of about thirty people,” Nolte said.

G-Force Robotics was created in April 2022 which is a flagship program of the Jonhston County STEM Girls Initiative 501c3. They are the third all-girl team in the state and will be participating in the NC FIRST Robotics Competition.

Since April they have volunteered more than 800 hours of their time educating younger female students about career opportunities in STEM through outreach efforts such as the STEAM expo and they 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 field as an engineer. I feel like I’m getting a really big head start that a lot of other people don’t get the opportunity to have,” Nolte said.

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

The students in G-Force 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 mentor the girls in G-Force, and it’s an opportunity for her to also learn from them too.

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

According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, K-12 male students had a 21% likelihood of taking engineering courses compared to 8% of female students. Fendrick hopes to see more equitable opportunities in STEM arise for women.

“That’s really important to keep those numbers going up because there should be an equal amount of men and women in STEAM because STEAM has no gender,” Fendrick said.

Both students say they’re excited about future learning opportunities and paying it forward to other students across the state.

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

Related: Carolinas Aviation Museum holding groundbreaking for new facility