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Girls Build Award-Winning Robot, Get STEM Inspiration

Four girls from North Carolina —along with the large robot they built— visited the Pentagon last week to brief European participants of the State Department's International Visitor Leadership Program on increasing inclusivity in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics, or STEAM. 

Two young people operate a robot while others stand in the background.
G-Force Robotics
Members of G-Force Robotics, a Defense Department-sponsored all girl’s robotics team, operate their robot at the Pentagon, Jan. 23, 2024.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jack Sanders
VIRIN: 240123-D-XI929-1018

G-Force Robotics is a 12-member, all-girl team that was named Rookie All Star winners at the 2023 FIRST Robotics Competition world championship in Houston. Nearly 3,500 high school teams from all over the world competed, with 620 advancing to the world championship.     

G-Force Robotics is one of 1,185 robotics teams sponsored by the Defense Department and industry, located throughout the world. More than 86,000 students in grades K-12 compete and only 2% of teams are all-female.    

"The G-Force team's mission is to inspire and encourage girls' participation at all levels in science, technology, engineering and math and help guide them on their career pathways—be that with DOD, other U.S. government agencies, industry or whatever else they choose," said Air Force Lt. Col. Shannon Mann, the team's coach.    

Mann said the girls have achieved amazing success in a short period of time. "A little over a year ago, these girls didn't know how to use power tools, code in Java or build robots. Working as a team, they built their winning robot in about eight weeks for a competition. Twenty years from now, these girls could be going to Mars. They can be the leaders that will deter our next global enemy," she said.    

Two young people operate a robot while others stand in the background.
G-Force Robotics
Members of G-Force Robotics, a Defense Department-sponsored all girl’s robotics team, operate their robot at the Pentagon, Jan. 23, 2024.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jack Sanders
VIRIN: 240123-D-XI929-1017Y
In addition to building the winning robot, Mann said the team collectively logged 3,200 hours of volunteer service that mostly focused on STEM outreach in their communities.     

During the team's discussion with the IVLP participants, they shared details of their outreach programs, including a book donation and reading program for elementary school students; a partnership with their local libraries and STEM classes for middle school girls; and a career-oriented breakfast for high school girls with female, STEM-industry leaders.    

The girls also shared G-Force Robotics' experiences, a DOD-affiliated exhibitor at the Fall STEAM Expo at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math, with arts referring to fine arts which drives creativity and innovation.    

Beyond being sponsored by the department's STEM professionals, dubbed DoD STEM, the team has a robust relationship with Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and the 4th Fighter Wing in North Carolina. At the base, the team has hosted two "Aviation & Robotics Day" events for about 300 participants; participated in a large Project Quesada event with 600 students in 2022; and helped organize and host the first STEM Hangar at the Wings Over Wayne Air Show in May for 62,000 attendees.  

While at Seymour, the girls met female pilots and other aviators and STEM-focused airmen who discussed what they do and opportunities in the Air Force and the other services.    

A person speaks while sitting at a table with several others looking on.
G-Force Robotics
Lella Violet, United Kingdom visitor in the International Visitor Leadership Program, chats with members of G-Force Robotics, a Defense Department-sponsored all girl’s robotics team (not shown) at the Pentagon, Jan. 23, 2024. Seated on the left are the four other IVLP visitors.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jack Sanders
VIRIN: 240123-D-XI929-1009

IVLP participants had many questions for the G-Force team members. Neda Zutautaite, executive director of the nongovernmental organization Knowledge Economy Forum in Vilnius, Lithuania, asked the girls what sparked their interest in joining the robotics team.    

Claire Fendrick, a 10th grader who's been in robotics for two years, said that she once read about a girl who wanted to be an astronaut.     

Fendrick said that got her thinking about the many opportunities for "really cool" jobs. "Then, when I saw online about an all-girls robotics team forming, I just decided, ‘Hey, I'm gonna' try it.' I tried it and loved it. And I've learned so much."    

Sloan Mann, a 10th grader who has been in robotics for six years, said she initially joined a middle school robotics team where she was the only girl, but she got pushed aside from building and coding to make posters and prepare judging material. So she started an all-girl robotics team where she could increase her technical skills and help other girls with theirs, too.    

Yelizaveta Korenko, the leader of STEM is FEM — a nongovernmental organization that arranges programs to inspire young women in STEM fields in Ukraine — asked the team if they ever tried to reach out to other girls to join them.    

Fendrick said, "I talked with friends. Everybody's like, ‘Oh, that's so cool.' And then the second thing they say is, ‘I could never do that.'    

"We need to show girls that they are capable of doing anything," she added.    

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