Stephanie Ludi has long believed that Legos can be used to get students interested in computing and engineering at an early age. And now she’s using them to reach out to women—one of the most underrepresented groups in those disciplines.
Ludi, a Rochester Institute of Technology software engineering professor, has formed an all-girls team to compete in the FIRST LEGO League, a competition that introduces middle school students to engineering by building Lego-based robots that are required to complete a variety of tasks. The team begins its first competition at noon on Nov. 21 at Churchville-Chili Middle School.
“Girls aren’t highly represented in the league,” says Ludi. “In forming this team, I wanted to give each of these girls a chance to be very active and participate. The experience has been extremely positive.”
The team is comprised of seven girls from schools around Monroe County. They meet at RIT each Friday afternoon to prepare for the competition. Half of the team focuses on building and programming the robots. The other half works on a research project related to the competition.
Ludi coaches the team and has enlisted four of her students in the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences to serve as mentors.
“Their resourcefulness and creativity has really surprised me,” says Katherine Donahue, a second-year software engineering major who helps mentor the team. “They are incredibly insightful. It’s interesting to see these budding leaders and engineers developing their problem solving mindset.”
Donahue says she liked that the team is comprised entirely of girls.
“You really don’t see all-girls teams in these competitions,” she says. “Being in a major that has one of the most pronounced male-to-female ratios on campus, I wanted to support the girls who had the courage to compete with men.”
Ludi has been pleased with the team’s progress thus far.
“The team is very curious and interested,” she says. “They’re not only getting to interact with college students and get a glimpse of what college is like, but they’re gaining valuable technical skills while working in a team.”
MEDIA NOTE: The RIT FIRST LEGO League team practices from 4:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. on Fridays at RIT’s B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences. Media interested in attending a practice session should contact John Follaco at (585) 475-4948.