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October 29, 2014 - Image 11

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2014-10-29

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6B Wednesday, October 29, 2014 The Statement
Training the next generation of female robo-builders
by Jesse Klein

At the Women of Science and Engi-
neering Office, Lego pieces were
trewn over the floor and computers
with circuitry programs peaked out from
behind unkempt, frizzy adolescent hair,
tween pop and Disney songs played in the
background. "Let's get down to business"
hummed on Pandora as conversations about
light sensing and line tracing drowned out
Captain's Li Shang's sung question; "Did
they send me daughters?/ When I asked for
Yes, yes they did. And just like Mulan,
they and the rest of the female robotic engi-
neers are going to prove
that he should have been
asking for them in the first
M Go Blue Bots is an
after-school program for
middle school girls run
by the University. This
all-girl team, including
the college undergraduate
mentors, build and pro- <
gram a robot to autono-
mously complete a series
of tasks for competition.
Aerospace Engineer-
ing Prof. Ella Atkins, local
program chair for the
IEEE International Con-
ference on Robotics and
Automation, said middle
school is around the age
where girls sometimes
lose their interest and
confidence in math and ,
"It's not socially 'in' for
a girl to be in programs
like First Robotics," she'

to blame. Robotics require knowledge in
every type of engineering, from electrical
and mechanical to computer coding, and a
team oriented discipline. It's in these types
of settings where women can be at a disad-
"(The team) sees a girl andthey see some-
one who is organized and will make a good
spreadsheet," Atkins said. "And because of
this you don't see as many women building
the actual parts."
But in that build room on the third floor
of the Undergraduate Science Building
there are no men. These girls and women

valid input. The expectation of inadequacy
can take a toll on female engineers.
"I had a friend tell me he wants to switch
genders with me for the career fair," How-
ard said. "So then when I get a job, I feel like
am I only here because I am female."
"It's like they didn't hire you for your
capabilities and are surprised by them,"
said Engineering sophomore Marisa Wite-
And Howard said she heard comments
like, "You did really well for a female
The older generation of female robotics

are delving into how automated machines
could address these new issues
"If you just have software or you just
have physical things you are limited," How-
ard said. "But if you combine the two like
in robotics you can make something awe-
According to Tilbury, the challenge is
showing that "robots can help people in
hospitals or help the elderly stay in their
The combined masters and Ph.D. pro-
gram in robotics that started at the Uni-
versity this year is only the third of its
kind, following programs at Carn-
egie Mellon University and Georgia
Institute of Technology. Students
take courses from all aspects of engi-
neering from the mechanical side
like kinematics and dynamics to the
computer vision and software styles.
The wide array of skills needed
for robotics was a driving force in
the creation of this new interdisci-
plinary program. Currently, robotics
research and programs at the Uni-
versity takes place in eight different
buildings around campus, but after
the creation of the new masters and
Ph.D. program, the University has
begun planning a centralized robot-
ics building on North Campus.
Women make up about 20 per-
cent of each of the undergraduate,
masters and doctoral programs in
engineering at the University, but
the robotics Ph.D. program at the
University in robotics is 60 percent
Rackham student Megan Richey
became interested in robotics after
W/Daily seeing the animatronics at Disney
World and she was hooked ever since.
Richey works on human robot interaction,
creating software that detects and respons-
es to human emotion.
Richey recently spent the weekend at
the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women
in Computing Conference, celebrating the
accomplishments of women in technol-
ogy. Of the 8,000 women at the conference,
she said each had a different reasoning for
becoming interested in computer science
and its applications
"Some people had always liked engineer-
ing, others had mentors who pushed them,"
Richey said. "It kind of pushed me to into
wanting to be a mentor so I could push
women into robotics."
As machine automation becomes more
widely recognized as a field of academic
study, and as more women are encouraged
to work with technology from a younger
age, the outlook for the number of women
who choose to work with robotics is noth-
ing but positive.


famous by association:
the man bunm
nless you've been living style into the mainstream, and to
under an enormous rock or be honest, I am all for it. I know,
have gotten your TV, inter- I know,
net and magazine subscriptions
were taken away simultaneously,
then you have undoubtedly noticed
the new trend to grace each and
every one of the red carpets this
past season. No, Iam not referring
to ear cuffs, or orange being the -
new black. Instead, it's something
that is usually only seen on shows
like Game of Thrones: the man bun.
Oh,the manbun.Weird?Creepy?
Hot? Sexy? Well, it depends. For a
while now, facial hair has crawled
its way back into modern
society; men are showing
more and more scruff, yet
the man bun - this is a dif-
ferent animal entirely. In a ,
somewhat mullet-esque fash-

"I'm into agricultural sustainability, and looking at how you can solve social issues
before they become a problem, basically. So I really want to go into public health and do
epidemiology - the study of disease ... (My advice is) find something that you're really
passionate about and you want to change, and go into that."

ion, the man bun is all business in
the front and party in the back. The
most puzzling part? Man buns are
no longer just for the hippie yoga
instructor who doesn't believe
in cutting his hair, or deodorant
for that matter. Celebrity men of
all types are bringing this hair-

there. may be some of you who
detest the man bun (I mean, have
you seen Leonardo Dicaprio's?)
And to that I say, not every man
can pull it off.
It takes a certain type of man. A
guy with style: Orlando Bloom. A
guy with mystery: Joaquin Phoe-
nix. A guy with strength: Chris
Hemsworth. A man with features
that distract you from the bun:
Jared Leto.
So unless you're planning on
pulling a Cary Fukunaga and
shocking the world, think twice
before emulating the stars and
growing in that man bun.

M Go Blue Bots is a type o
ics team, organized with t
national organization tha
youth STEM programs. The
isn't in learning how to code
to the sixth grade classro
start worrying about how
their peers, which can steer;
Engineering seniors Che
Cassie Morford, as well
junior Mayla Harp and sop
Molley, are helping to comb
encouraging these Ann Arb
l interested in engineering an
key to getting women into u
ed fields is to start young -
is that they're helping to tra:
eration of female robotic eni
However, just getting
ested in engineering and r
aM the first hurdle. Gender bia
the team atmosphere of rob

Middle schoolers create a robot for a competition as a part of the M Go Blue Bots robotics team.
f FIRST Robot- are responsible for the entirety of the engineers had experienced a lot more gen-
:he help of the robot's success and failure. der bias in their academic lives.
it promulgates "We try to have a hands-off approach," "When I was an undergrad, there wasn't
challenge often Pugh said. "We want them to solve the a female bathroom in the electrical engi-
,but stems back problems on their own." neering building," said Mechanical Engi-
om when girls Most women engineers are surrounded neering Prof. Dawn Tilbury, the associate
they appear to by men their whole lives and oftentimes, dean of Research.
girls away from robotics is no different of an environment. Yet, even though female robotics engi-
"It's weird to walk into a room of 20 team neers sometimes felt ignored, they also felt
isea Pugh and leaders and be the only girl," said Engineer- more visible.
as Engineering ing senior Michelle Howard, president of "When you're a minority you are more
homore Lauren UM::Autonomy, an organization that works memorable," Tilbury added. "They remem-
'at this issue by to build a robotic boat every year. But How- ber when you do good and when you do
or girls to stay ard never felt as though being female has bad."
id robotics. The held her back, and in some ways, she believ- It is even possible to combine robotics
inderrepresent- er her gender was an advantage. with departments in the College of Litera-
and their hope "I feel that if you are a girl, adults are ture, Science and the Arts. A project at the
in the next gen- more willing to help you," she said. "It's like University called Society 2030 discusses
gineers. they expect you to have problems so they how the world will look in the next 15
women inter- are more willing to help." years. While the humanities and social sci-
obotics is only According to Howard, the bias continues ence faculty look at the problems that will
ses persist and in the workplace when male administrators develop with an increasingly aging popula-
otics is slightly are surprised that female engineers have tion in the United States, robotics experts


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