It’s two weeks until the competition, and 17-year-old Ella Maier is ecstatic her robot can finally do a pull-up.
“Oh, that’s so exciting,” the Girls of Steel member said, as her robot latched on to a bar at the team’s practice facility and hoisted itself to the second rung. “I’m in charge of that subsystem, and I’m really pleased it works. There’s always a fear that it might not perform. There are no guarantees on this stuff, ever.”
Maier’s drive to troubleshoot and celebrate when an adjustment works out is exactly what Congressman Mike Doyle said he’s most proud of when he sees the growth and talent of the competitive teen robotics group.
“I grew up in an era when Pittsburgh was just a steel town, when nobody worked in these fields and few people were imagining a future like we live in today,” Doyle said during a visit to Girls of Steel’s practice field at Carnegie Mellon University’s Bakery Square facility. “I’m just blown away by all the incredible projects these young women are working on.”
A longtime supporter of the Girls of Steel and STEM education, Doyle toured the team’s practice area for the first time on Saturday, March 5. The girls showed Doyle hefty robots they built for the upcoming FIRST Robotics competition, a wearable fitness device they designed for children with autism, and the ways they contributed to the COVID-19 tracking and forecasting research by CMU’s Delphi Research Group. Doyle posed for a group photo of the girls after his hour-long visit, joining them in a Rosie the Riveter salute.
“Girls of Steel has been one of the most enlightening experiences I’ve ever had in school,” said Grace Goslin, 15, of Mt. Lebanon High School. “It’s so fun to be here in a group of people who are so accepting and always teaching you and giving you advice and guidance. And it’s OK when you make a mistake.”
Goslin is among nine team members working on BuzzBand, a wearable fitness device designed for youth with autism who face sensory, physical and emotional challenges associated with exercise. Girls of Steel recently received a $10,000 Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam® grant to support the work.
“We always say it’s about so much more than building robots,” said Girls of Steel co-founder Patti Rote. “They’re building relationships and learning to balance multiple projects, and learning how to talk about their work to other people. They develop so many wonderful skills.”
Doyle, who is retiring from Congress at the end of his current term, said the Girls of Steel represent what he worked to achieve as a member of the House of Representatives. He helped found congressional caucuses for robotics and autism, and his work on Capitol Hill led to early funding for CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center. He’s been an advocate for CMU and Pittsburgh’s growing technology community ever since.
“Most of the people I grew up with went to work in the steel mill, because that’s all we’d ever seen or thought about doing,” Doyle said. “These young women have been exposed to so much more. I’m just so proud to have played a very small part in the evolution of these projects, of CMU’s wonderful Robotics Institute and the Girls of Steel.”
More information about Girls of Steel is available on their website.