SFU hosts Lego robot battle royal for elementary school children

Only a small percentage of SFU's sciences and engineering students are women and that's a problem, says SFU computer science lecturer Janice Regan.

Spring break workshop in Surrey gets girls into engineering

These robots, which were built by elementary school students, are ready to rumble. (Pete Scobie/CBC)

Only a small percentage of SFU's sciences and engineering students are women and that's a problem, says SFU computer science lecturer Janice Regan.

Men outnumber women in science classes in post secondary schools across the globe and Regan says there are times when she looks out at her classroom and doesn't see a single female face.

"It ranges from none to maybe 15 or 20 percent," she said.

Lecturer Janice Regan shows off some of the robots elementary school students built for this week's battle royale. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

But Regan hopes battling robots will get some more girls interested in engineering.

She's helping to oversee the university's spring break workshop at its Surrey campus where elementary school students are invited to design, program and build robots out of Lego.

The program is part of a partnership between SFU's Faculty of Applied Sciences, Surrey Schools and the HR MacMillan Space Centre. 

"It's very important that girls get a chance to try things that are not traditionally female," she said.

"When they have the opportunity to actually do those things, many girls find out how interested in them they really are."

Robot battle royal

Once the robots are built, the students make them fight.

Grade Six student Sumaiyah Khokhar wants to build transportation systems when she grows up. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

"You should add some claws and other fighting stuff," said Grade Six student Sumaiyah Khokhar. "You should add a shield so that you can have defence when they fight against you."

Parastoo Alirezaei, a 4th year mechatronics student at SFU, has been sharing her expertise with the children.

"At first they're not very interested and they don't want to build anything because they don't have any sense of how it works," she said.

"Later, when they actually learn how it works and the fight comes, they are so excited. I wish they had something like this when I was a kid."

Twelve-year-old Kajal Mishra prepares the robot she designed, built and programmed ready for battle at SFU's Surrey campus. (Pete Scobie/CBC)

Excited about science

Grade Seven student Kajal Mishra says the workshop has her thinking about taking science courses when she gets to university.

"I feel like the younger generations, if we grow up learning about these technologies, we can build on this in our future careers," Mishra said.

Mishra hasn't decided what she wants to be when she grows up, but Khokar has a pretty good idea.

"I want to become a computer programmer and create stuff that no one has ever created before, like transportation systems," she said.

"Maybe we could create something that would make it easier for us to go space so that we can discover a new planet."

About the Author

Jesse Johnston

Jesse Johnston covers stories South of the Fraser. Catch him on The Early Edition every Wednesday at 7:40 a.m. @Jesse_Johnston

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