How robotics competitions can help get girls into STEM

young Japanese girl making friends with robot

As the Competition Support Manager for VEX Robotics in the UK, Bridie Gaynor has witnessed first-hand the positive impact educational robotics can have on primary and secondary students.

Bridie’s role requires her to travel frequently around the UK to facilitate the smooth running of local and regional events, with the competition season culminating every year for the VEX UK National Finals in March. These events are comprised of the VEX IQ Challenge (VIQC) and the VEX Robotics Competition (VRC), designed respectively for schoolchildren at Key Stage 2 & 3 and Key Stages 3 to 5. Whilst VIQC robots are created by teams of students using plastic, snap-together parts, and VRC robots are built with metal & steel parts, both platforms feature impressive control systems, including a brain that can be programmed using VEXcode IQ Blocks (powered by Scratch Blocks) or VEXcode Text.

What is perhaps most striking about the competitions that Bridie attends is the increasing number of young females who are participating. At the 2019 VEX UK National Finals, more than 50 per cent of the 700 students competing were female, a highly promising figure considering the current STEM shortage and the level of engineering, programming and design skills required to compete. Bridie hopes that she can inspire even more females to take part in the future, as the events continue to grow in stature:

“It’s amazing to think just how many female students are getting involved in VEX competitions and at such a young age, particularly when you consider the lack of gender diversity in STEM industries.”

“What makes VEX stand out from the crowd is the perfectly balanced practical and theoretical aspects of both the VEX IQ system and VEX EDR system.”

“We need to be showing girls that engineering, coding and tech isn’t just for boys, it’s for everyone and there’s so many different avenues in STEM to discover.”

Having worked at VEX Robotics for over six years, Bridie has been part of the journey of several all-girls teams who have been successful in serving as ambassadors for STEM in the wider community, including East Barnet’s Girls of Steel and Welwyn Garden City’s Microbots, both of whom have shared their experiences with tech-industry heavyweights form across the globe.

With the growth of the VEX community and the increasing uptake of female students competing overall, Bridie says it’s important to have more women in leadership roles like her to inspire the future generations:

“What’s fantastic about my job is that I get to serve as something of a role model that girls can look up to.”

“It’s great to be in a position where aspiring STEM students can see that women can really succeed in these industries and take charge of what is typically a male-dominated environment.”

“I truly believe that robotics systems like VEX give females a chance to get involved in STEM in a fun, exciting and engaging capacity, whilst setting students up for future careers in STEM”.

Bridie Gaynor featuredAbout the author

Bridie Gaynor is the Competition Support Manager in the UK for VEX Robotics.

She is responsible for supporting VEX events and teams across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

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Are you a woman aspiring to pursue a career in tech? Join the Women in RPA Initiative

Woman wearing a virtual reality headset, Women in RPA Initiative

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