Girl Scouts earn robotics badge at inaugural workshop

September 3, 2019

Gopika Ajaykumar presents latest research at Girl Scouts robotics workshop at the Maryland Science Center.

What do Girl Scouts and robots have in common? Helping people.

Gopika Ajaykumar, a second-year PhD student in computer science and member of the Johns Hopkins Malone Center for Engineering in Healthcare, provided examples on how robots are working alongside people at the Maryland Science Center’s inaugural Girls Scouts Robotics Workshop on June 1, 2019. The hands-on workshop provided multiple types of robots for the Cadettes to learn about and interact with. The middle-schoolers built circuits, used software to program robots, and built a prototype using easily accessible materials.

According to Labor Department statistics, women hold only 16 percent of the nation’s engineering jobs, 21 percent of computer programming jobs, and 25 percent of math-related jobs. The Maryland Science Center hopes to improve those numbers by introducing girls to STEM fields at an early age.

“We have a long history of running programs for the Girl Scouts in our Camp-In program and love working with troops from across Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania,” said Alysia Korn, education program coordinator for The Maryland Science Center. “The Camp-In program is geared towards younger Girl Scouts, so it has been very important for us to develop a program that can engage older Girl Scouts. We want to continue to inspire these girls and empower them to consider careers in STEM as they move into high school and college,” said Korn.

Ajaykumar says she was excited to present at the workshop because she understands the impact of being introduced to STEM at an early age. The programming and engineering courses she took in middle school and high school helped to foster her interests in writing code and building things, interests which later led to her involvement with robotics upon entering college. Ultimately, it lead to her interest in pursuing a career as a robotics researcher.

In her presentation to the Girl Scouts, Ajaykumar explained the following types of support robots can provide humans: physical, social, and cognitive. She also described how robots are assisting humans with daily tasks in these core areas.

Ajaykumar research area is in human-robot interaction. She’s working toward the development of assistive robots in various environments in the Hopkins Intuitive Computing Laboratory, led by John C. Malone Assistant Professor of Computer Science Chien Ming-Huang.  “As robots begin to make their way into classrooms, hospitals, and even homes, it becomes critical for people, especially those without specialized programming or robotics experience, to be able to easily program and re-task their robots,” says Ajaykumar.

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