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Girls build bots at new Northwood School day camp

Saniya Pleasants, of Richmond, Virginia, builds a robot at Northwood School's Innovation Hub on Tuesday, July 6. (Provided photo — Northwood School)

LAKE PLACID — It was Fiona Webb’s first time building a robot, and she did it in just a few hours.

Webb, who will be starting sixth grade at Lake Placid Middle School in the fall, is one of 12 students participating in a robotics camp for girls hosted by Northwood School this week.

Northwood School is private, but the school’s administrators have talked about using its Innovation Hub on Main Street to host some public events and educational experiences for some time. This robotics camp, open to students from any district, is the school’s first attempt at that. The camp was free to attend, courtesy of a grant from the Adirondack Foundation.

Despite nearly half the U.S. workforce being women, women have historically been underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers. Schools across the country — and even some technology companies — have made targeted efforts to entice more women to consider jobs in these fields. Those efforts are making an impact. In 1970, just 8% of STEM workers were women, according to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2019, 27% of the STEM workforce — which totaled nearly 10.8 million people, according to the Census Bureau — was female.

Though she didn’t have any experience with it, Webb liked the idea of building robots. But going into her first day at camp, she was a little scared.

Fiona Webb, who will be attending Lake Placid Middle School this fall, is seen here with a robot she built Tuesday, July 6 at Northwood School's Innovation Hub on Main Street. (News photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

“I knew I was going to know people here, but I’ve never done this before,” she said Tuesday, July 6. “It’s actually really fun.”

From a box of gears, wheels and metal parts from Vex Robotics, Webb spent her first day at Northwood’s robotics camp piecing together the base of a robot.

“I feel very proud of myself,” she said. “I feel like I’ve achieved a lot more than I thought.”

Webb will learn how to build a tower and claw for her robot this week, plus some programming and coding basics. Northwood School’s robotics teacher, Jeff Martin, is leading the class.

The robotics camp was open to girls of all skill levels. St. Michael’s student Saniya Pleasants, of Richmond, Virginia, went into the camp already having some experience with coding and robotics. She decided to join the camp because one of her friends was going and she thought it’d be fun to try out.

Northwood School robotics teacher Jeff Martin looks on as a camper constructs a robot on Tuesday, July 6. (Provided photo — Northwood School)

“I’ve always had an interest in computers and things like that,” she said.

“I just like building things, I like putting things together. It’s really relaxing to me,” she added.

Her first day was “really fun,” she said.

“I really enjoyed building the robot. It was a great experience,” Pleasants said.

Pleasants does see robotics as a career option for her — she said she’d like to build something for Google.

Asked if there was a human job she’d like to build a robot for, Webb had one idea.

“Chores, so I don’t have to do it,” she said.

The girls robotics camp runs from Tuesday, July 6 to Friday, July 9. As part of the program, Northwood School is offering each of the girls’ school districts a robotics kit and offering teachers the opportunity to learn how to teach with them.