Girls launch robots to top off empowering weekend

- A group of teenage girls in Tampa from schools in underserved areas got an empowering learning experience at a special camp at the Museum of Science and Industry.

In a jam-packed weekend at Girls Underwater Robot Camp, girls ages 10-15 built submarine drones at MOSI on Friday, spent the night at The Florida Aquarium on Saturday and woke up on Sunday to test their robots in an exhibit and then deploy and pilot them through the waters of Tampa Bay from the deck of the Aquarium's catamaran.

"At the beginning they're completely overwhelmed but by the end when they see what they've built their confidence is built and they get see that wow I can be an engineer," said Jefferson High School teacher Judy Paradis. 

The three day camp is the brainchild of National Geographic Explorer and submarine pilot Erika Bergman.

"I go to work every day and I'm often the only woman on these huge crews. I love my coworkers but I see this huge missing demographic and that's peers and colleagues that are women," said Berman.

Now she's hoping to recruit the next generation of marine scientists by leading Hillsborough County girls on an adventure to spark their interests in STEM careers. She and Hillsborough County educators hope the future faces in STEM career fields look a lot different.

"STEM traditionally has been all about white males, and while that's great for folks like me, that's not how our country is going to move forward. Diversity in STEM is extremely important and when we talk about under-represented groups in STEM we are talking about females in STEM and we're talking about people of color," said Larry Plank, director for K-12 STEM education in Hillsborough County. "These types of activities are targeted so that we have a diverse group of folks that represent our community in the best way possible and if you look at the girls who are here it looks just like Tampa Bay."

The camp is completely free, so kids of every income level are able to participate. The girls were chosen from six schools in underserved areas based on the skills they have shown in the classroom. The breakthrough education program, "Mission: Tampa Bay," aims to give these girls a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will make the most of their interests in the fast-growing, high-paying STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

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