In 2012, Marita Cheng was named Young Australian of the Year for her efforts to create a girl friendly robotics culture. Marita founded Robogals, an international student run organization that helps young engineers teach robotics to girls in schools, and in the process encourages more girls to also pursue engineering.
In Australia only 9.6% of engineers are women. This figure is similar across most of the world. As we globally face a shortage of engineers, every country is concerned with strategies to increase science and technology graduate numbers. A high priority is tapping an existing resource, young women who have the intelligence and skills to enter science and engineering, but aren’t interested.
In 2008, Cheng started Robogals as a student club at University of Melbourne, with the encouragement of Head of Electrical Engineering, A/Prof. Jamie Evans. They believed that one solution to the low number of women in engineering was to encourage fellow engineering students to teach robotics to girls at schools, leveraging existing robotics competitions.
Robogals expanded to the UK in 2009, when Cheng was on academic exchange at Imperial College London. At around the same time Robogals started a leadership program, identifying women at other universities who could start Robogals chapters and bringing them together for a 3 day bootcamp.
In March 2013, Caltech and Colombia University both hosted bootcamps, now called SINEs (seminars inducting new executive committees) as Robogals expands in to the US and Canada. In just over 4 years, Robogals has grown to 17+ chapters in 5 countries around the world, and taught over 8,000 girls robotics.
Along the way, Robogals has had many achievements to celebrate, from Marita Cheng being named Young Australian of the year, to Robogals being recognized as a ‘Change Agent’ by the Anita Borg Institute, to Robogals claiming the Guinness World Record for largest robot dance party with 351 coordinated dancers, both human and metallic.
One of the secrets of Robogals’ success is bringing young women engineers together to have fun, as well as to inspire and educate the next generation. On May 4 2013, Cheng gave a presentation at TedXSydney and hopes to raise the profile of Robogals chapters across the globe. Visit the Robogals site for more information on getting involved – and membership in Robogals is open to guys as well as girls.
And there’s already a new generation of Robogals. Marita Cheng has just passed the torch on to a new CEO, Nicole Brown, as she pursues her own robotics startup.