Shaping the Future, Today

USC Viterbi’s “best” new student club, Robogals is inspiring the next generation of STEM professionals

It’s no secret that women have historically been underrepresented in fields in science and technology. Though women make up half of the workforce in the U.S. among those who have received higher education, they represent only 29 percent of the professionals
in STEM fields, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project.

Through Robogals, a global nonprofit organization that recently opened a chapter on campus, several USC students, mostly from USC Viterbi, are working to end this disparity.

Despite being one of the USC Viterbi’s newest clubs, Robogals has already had a notable impact. Their goal is to inspire and encourage young women and other underrepresented groups in engineering fields to pursue careers in STEM. Through free workshops and in-class tutoring, club members have taught over 250 children between the ages of 8 and 13 over the past 10 months from local schools like Los Feliz Elementary School and the Girls Academic Leadership Academy. It’s no wonder that the Klein Institute for Undergraduate Engineering Life selected Robogals as the “Best New Student Organization.”

“I think it is important to have more women in STEM simply to break the stigma about what the engineer is,” said USC Viterbi student Kassie Reynolds, former Robogals marketing and sponsorships manager. “By showing the kids that we can be in STEM, too, we make it seem less exclusive.”

Last semester, club members went to Los Feliz Elementary School on a biweekly basis, where they hosted hour-long workshops on robotics that were tailored to appeal to their younger audience.

At one recent workshop, members brought a Lego NXT Robot into the classroom. After learning a bit about robotics, students had the opportunity to learn how to code the robot to make it move. At another workshop, students built their own circuits and sent Morse code messages.

“Getting the opportunity to teach these kids has been really rewarding,” said Meredith Huang, a USC Viterbi junior and outreach manager for Robogals. “It’s such a unique, hands-on experience, and you really feel like you’re making a difference.”

Outreach isn’t just geared toward the next generation. It is focused on USC students as well. Membership is open to all majors, although most of the Robogals major in engineering disciplines. Members pride themselves on giving non-engineering students the chance to learn how to code and gain experience in engineering fields. The USC chapter currently has 20 members, 18 of whom are studying at USC Viterbi.

The USC branch is one of 31 Robogals chapters worldwide, divided into three regions: Asia Pacific, EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa), and North America.

USC’s Robogals wants to grow its membership and expand sponsorships to have the resources to host many more workshops next semester and beyond. If the club’s success over the past 10 months is any indication, Robogals will remain an exciting group to watch.

“Seeing the club grow, and comparing where we were last year — a new club with no members — to where we are this year — a fully functioning club with a brand new executive board — has definitely been my favorite part,” Reynolds said. “I’m very proud of the impact we’ve had in such a short period of time.”