Back in June, I posted a blog announcing our Girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) competition as the global technology sponsor of World Robot Olympiad (WRO). Our goal was to increase the number of young women taking part in the WRO’s competitions every year.
To help us choose the most inspiring and compelling programs to drive girls in STEM, we decided to reach outside of Juniper for help with the judging process. And I was thrilled with the response we got! Camilla Bottke, who heads up LEGO® Education’s competitions globally and Crystal Jones, who works for NASA as its Technical Integration Manager for SpaceX Ground and Mission Operations, both kindly agreed to be judges alongside me. It was a true privilege to work with Camilla and Crystal since they are such tremendous role models in helping to inspire more young women to embark on STEM educations and ultimately careers. Thanks to them both for their time, insights and passion.
Entries from WRO National Organizers around the world poured in over the summer. I was very glad to have help in judging! The quality of entries was so high and each one highlighted remarkable work, either achieved or planned, to drive higher female participation. The prospect of selecting the best two was actually rather daunting.
In the end, we selected the best-of-the-best to announce at WRO’s global finale event in mid-November. The event of course had to be virtual and was hosted by the Canadian National Organizer Zone01 (who pivoted seamlessly from the physical event for thousands of competitors in Montreal that they had been planning for over a year). We created a short video for the closing ceremony, revealing the winning entries and capturing the moment they learned of their success. I had so much fun with those two conversations!
Here is a small glimpse into the work and plans of our two winners, and why they were chosen to receive the US$5,000 prizes:
Past Project Category Winner – World Robot Olympiad Switzerland
Led by Monika Koch, this National Organizer funded the robotic kits and learning materials to team coaches if they registered an all-girls team. Monika’s team also ran a national education campaign targeting every school, to highlight the benefits and opportunities of STEM education for girls and the WRO competition. This was underpinned by promotion of a single point of contact for teachers and coaches, enabling them to learn more in support of their efforts to recruit females into teams. Their efforts more than doubled the participation rate of girls across the country!
Future Project Category Winner – STEM Education Organization for Cambodia
Led by Una McCarthy-Fakhry, this National Organizer outlined its plans to step up an existing program – STEM Sisters Cambodia – to a new level in 2021 in order to drive increased entry numbers. Funded by the British Embassy in Cambodia, this program is already devoted to supporting young women’s STEM opportunities in Cambodia by providing a mentorship framework. This extends from high school students (Little Sisters) through university students (Big Sisters) to women in STEM-based careers (Pro Sisters), with the aim of providing ongoing support, inspiration and practical advice as females begin and progress their indiviudal STEM journeys. Currently the program has more than 4,000 participants across the country. Specifically in 2021, STEM Sisters Cambodia will run an initiative to introduce its community to robotics and will focus on WRO participation as a foundational element.
Additional to these two worthy winners, we also recognized a top runner-up National Organizer in each category (IdeasGym Egypt for Past Projects and WRO Japan for Future Projects). Each runner-up will receive multiple LEGO Education SPIKE™ Prime robotics kits from our very generous WRO co-sponsor, LEGO Education.
Congratulations to you all!
A New Joint Mentorship Program
As I mentioned in the video, another exciting development resulting from this competition has been a joint decision by Crystal Jones of NASA, Camilla Bottke of LEGO Education and Juniper Networks to create a mentorship program for all of the entrants of this year’s competition. The overall aim is to tap into the experiences of women in our organizations to help encourage, inspire and support young women around the world, via WRO and their in-country organizations. More details coming shortly!
Finally, my thanks and congratulations to all WRO entrants, National Organizers and everyone who has worked behind the scenes in what has proved to be a uniquely challenging year. Juniper is already looking forward to partnering with you again in 2021.