Q&A with Robogals London – and why making robots in libraries couldn’t be more obvious

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“By partnering with public libraries, Robogals can create a bigger impact in local communities and make more people aware of our programme.” Yuen Lan Chow, President of Robogals London Chapter

Manchester Libraries have been working with Robogals’ Manchester chapter for quite some time now and they put me onto the potential for Robogals to be great partners for public libraries across England.

So on Monday I met up with Yuen Lan Chow, current president of the London chapter of Robogals at Deptford Lounge to find out more about what Robogals is all about and why they’re so keen to work with libraries. Here’s what she told me:

What is Robogals? What’s it all about? Who is it aimed at?

Robogals, a unique student-run organisation was founded in July 2008 with the aim of increasing female participation in engineering, science and technology. This is achieved through fun and educational initiatives aimed at girls in primary and secondary schools.

Mainly, we run an outreach program in which university students volunteer to hold and mentor robotic LEGO workshops, as well as robotic competitions. We also run events and programmes that are around our central aims. For example, we actively involved in a world record-breaking mass robot dance, Robogals Experience Sharing Programme, Robogals Rural and Regional and science fairs.

To date, Robogals has chapters at 21 universities across the world, with 7 of them based in the UK.

Robogals 4

(Image: The Robogals)

Why would you want to spend your free time teaching girls how to make Lego robots?

Because of joining Robogals, I found out about Lego robots. Like most girls, I believed that robots and programming were for boys, so I though it would be hard to make Lego robots when I attended my first Robogals training session. However, I soon realised that I handled it quite well; especially considering I am just a chemistry student and not studying engineering or mathematics.

After I found out more about the aims of Robogals, I told myself that I wanted to teach more girls about Lego robots and share my own experience. I’m willing to give up my time to do this because I feel like I might be able to change a girl’s future through one of our Robogals workshops. 

Robogals 3

(Image: girls putting their creations to the test at a Robogals workshop)

Why is Lego Mindstorm your preferred tool?

Lego Mindstorm includes a central CPU brick that controls the system and a set of components such as sensors, motors and LEGO parts. It is our preferred tool because it comes with lots of variation and it is not hard to learn. Everyone plays with Lego some point in their childhood, so students can get on with the construction straightaway.

The programming consists of a simple, visual interface, which is easy for students to understand as well.  The variations of Lego Mindstorm enable us to design a series of teaching materials with different complexity, so matching the need of students from different age groups. 

Moreover, Lego continues to develop Lego Mindstorm and provides a good support on it, which means we can deliver best workshop to the students.

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(Image: Lego Mindstorm)

What do you think the girls who attend your workshops get out of it?

Our workshops have been designed to engage girls in a range of STEM topics in a way that is fun and creative. And during the workshop our volunteers share their passion and excitement in STEM with the girls. Apart from raising their interest in STEM through the workshop, we hope ‘STEM’ is introduced into girl’s vocabulary, and to create a positive influence against the traditional mindset of STEM as being male-dominated. In the same time, they are informed with the available options of their future career path in STEM area.

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(Image: girls building a Lego Mindstorm robot at a Robogals workshop)  

Why might you be interested in partnering with public libraries (in London)?

For Robogals London chapter, our primary activity is holding campus based robotic workshop for local schools. Although London chapters has taken part in off-campus events in the past, London chapter want to do this more often.  This becomes possible in the partnership with local libraries.

By partnering with public libraries, Robogals can create a bigger impact in local communities and make more people aware of our programme. We are able to deliver our workshops to general public and even reaching girls from minority ethnic background. Moreover, our volunteers also have a unique opportunity to meet different people and develop their transferable skills. 

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