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Sussex robots to inspire next generation of female engineers

The University is celebrating the 50th anniversary of engineering on campus by using robots to inspire the next generation of engineers – especially girls.

Research at Sussex recently found that girls can match and even exceed boys’ performance on coding activities, given the right tools. Women are, however, under-represented in Britain’s engineering and computing work force.

The School of Engineering and Informatics is staging three ‘Robogals’ days this month, when school girls will get to work with robots.

Dr Kate Howland, Lecturer in Interaction Design, said: “It is hugely important that young people, and girls in particular, get a sense of the exciting and creative activities that can be done in computer science and engineering.

“The University has a strong track record in turning out some of the top engineers of our time and we want to ensure that we have just as many women represented as men.”

Demand is high from schools around the south-east of England to send girls to Robogals – so there will be three different days in June aimed at stimulating the interest of year 9 pupils before they finalise their GSCE options.

The pupils will learn how to help the robots to find their way round mazes using sensors and race them towards a light. They will also build and programme their own robots using LEGO Mindstorms robotics kits.

Ryan Coughlan, an Informatics undergraduate who organises student volunteers for Robogals, said: “I got involved in this activity because the gender disparity on my course is only far too obvious and there seems to be a lot of problems with this in industry.

“There are more barriers to entry for girls, because although they are interested and more than competent in engineering, they won’t pursue it because they regard it as manly.”

The University is also challenging schoolchildren across the region to invent something they’d like to create if they were an engineer – in partnership with Primary Engineer, a not-for-profit organisation that works to encourage children to consider a future in engineering.

Designed to motivate all children and young people to view engineering as a real and attractive option as they grow up, the first ever South East England Special Leaders Award challenges pupils aged 5-19 to research and learn more about engineering and its profound impact on the world around them, and to meet and interview practising engineers from a wide range of fields.

Pupils from Ifield Community College, for example, recently visited the Mobil 1 Team Sussex Formula Student team, which is competing with rival universities to build a racing car. The pupils toured the team’s headquarters and then visited the University’s product design facilities.

Inspired by their improved understanding of engineering, pupils then design something they would like to invent if they were an engineer. By showcasing the creative side of engineering, as well as the breadth of career opportunities, the competition particularly appeals to children and young people who do not fit the stereotypical profile of a budding engineer.

The winning entries will be exhibited on campus on 4-5 July.

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Posted on behalf of: School of Engineering and Informatics
Last updated: Tuesday, 2 June 2015