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They’re not just selling cookies — Girl Scouts also building bridges, robots

Members of the Mustache Bunnies celebrate after their robot successfully performs a task. From left: Katrina Sanko, Jenna Kaufman, Alexis Albay, Nicole Repede and Kathryn Hilbert. - Courtesy photo
Members of the Mustache Bunnies celebrate after their robot successfully performs a task. From left: Katrina Sanko, Jenna Kaufman, Alexis Albay, Nicole Repede and Kathryn Hilbert.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Most people tend to associate Girl Scouts with cookies rather than science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), but members of two local troops are doing their part to change this.

From building bridges to building robots, these young ladies are proving science can be fun.

BRIDGING THE SCIENCE GAP

Maggie Duffy, a Redmond High School (RHS) senior and member of Girl Scout Troop 43266, is organizing and leading two mechanical engineering workshops for middle school students. The two-day workshops will be held at Evergreen Middle School (EMS) and Redmond Middle School (RMS).

The workshop at EMS, 6900 208th Ave. N.E., will be held from 3-5 p.m. on Feb. 1 and 22. The workshop at RMS, 10055 166th Ave. N.E., will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 2 and 23. Aimed toward sixth- through eighth-graders, the workshop is $20. To register, visit www.redmond.gov/register and enter code 44329 for the EMS workshop or code 44330 for the RMS workshop.

The workshop, Tiny Truss, is part of Duffy’s Gold Award. This 80-hour community service project is the Girl Scout equivalent to the Boy Scouts’ Eagle Scout ranking.

Workshop attendees will learn the basics of construction and what makes a structure strong and be given the task to build a small truss bridge using coffee stirrers, glue and paper. The bridges will be tested for their integrity and weight-bearing capacity on the second day of the workshop.

“So we smash them, pretty much,” Duffy said about the bridges.

Although Duffy is graduating at the end of the school year, City of Redmond teen programs administrator Ken Wong said they plan to continue her work by offering programs emphasizing STEM education.

Duffy presented her ideas for Tiny Truss to the Redmond Youth Partnership Advisory Committee (RYPAC) in October and Wong said they liked the concept of the program and addressing the need for more STEM programming.

“I think young people like Maggie, who want to make a difference for others, are stepping up,” he said. “Initially this may be a project that she has to complete but it has become a passion that she wants (to) share with others. What we like is that she wants it to be sustainable and that is what RYPAC will try to do based on teen interests.”

Wong said he is not sure yet whether RYPAC will continue the Tiny Truss workshop or if they will offer other STEM-related programs.

Duffy said she chose to do this workshop for her Gold Award because she participated in one like it when she was younger (above) and it was fulfilling to see something she made stand up to natural forces.

“That’s what got me into math and science,” she said. “Before that…it wasn’t applicable to anything I was doing.”

Duffy said she wanted to focus her workshop on middle schoolers because there aren’t many programs and activities at that level to get students interested in science, whereas there are science fairs at the elementary level and various clubs and internship opportunities at the high school level.

A HANDS-ON APPROACH

As with Duffy, science and math became much more interesting to Katrina Sanko and Jenna Kaufman after they were able to see a practical use for it.

The two girls are part of a six-member team called the Mustache Bunnies representing Redmond’s Girl Scout Troop 41295 in the First Lego League (FLL), a program that challenges participants to design, build and program an autonomous robot to perform various tasks in competition. The first-time team — whose remaining members are Alexis Albay, Nicole Repede, Kathryn Hilbert and Melody Hanley — recently competed in a regional competition last month and have advanced to the Western Washington Championship in February.

“So not bad for a group of rookies,” said Tom Sanko, Katrina’s father and one of the team’s coaches.

Sanko said Girl Scouts of Western Washington places special emphasis on STEM education and offers financial support to troops participating in such programs, including FLL.

The Mustache Bunnies were formed after members participated in a robotics club while attending Benjamin Rush Elementary School in Redmond. The girls, now all in sixth grade and attending different middle schools throughout the Lake Washington School District, reunited after Sanko and another parent stepped up to be coaches.

Katrina and Jenna both said they already enjoyed science before they joined the robotics club at Ben Rush, but their participation in the club definitely changed the way they viewed science and math.

Katrina said a lot of the science they study in school is more nature based such as natural disasters and landforms. Robotics is a more technical and hands-on approach.

“I really think I like the more technical side of (science) because it can be more fun and involving,” she said. “You don’t really get to make landforms.”

Jenna agreed, saying she particularly enjoyed learning how to program their robot to perform different tasks. She added that programs like FLL are a different way to learn science and could get more kids interested in the subject.

In addition to their robot, the Mustache Bunnies also had to give a presentation on a research project addressing a specific problem. This year’s theme was “Senior Solutions,” aimed at the challenges that senior citizens face in accomplishing daily tasks.

The team came up with an anklet with an ultrasonic sensor that would vibrate to warn seniors of possible obstacles in their path that may cause them to trip.

“They actually had it working,” Sanko said. “(It was) very clever, and they did that completely on their own.”

 

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