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Girl Scouts introduced to STEM opportunities

Cassie Salo, 17, of International Falls, left, and Robyn Mellema, 12 of Onema, work on programming their robot Saturday morning at Bemidji State University. They were among 15 Girl Scouts who took part in Robo Girls, an event offering workshops on technology, art and design. Bethany Wesley | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – Fifteen Girl Scouts spent much of the weekend at Bemidji State University learning about technology, art and design.

The sixth- through 12th-grade girls, through the Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin Lakes and Pines, took part in the first-ever Robo Girls event, sponsored by the 360° Manufacturing and Applied Engineering Regional Center of Excellence.

The Girl Scouts arrived at BSU Friday night and stayed on campus through Saturday, learning a dance routine and taking part in workshops including computer programming, robotics and produce development.

“The goal is to introduce them to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers,” said Jessica Gehrke, communications specialist for 360°, “to just kind of show them what opportunities are out there.”

Students learned computer programming through Scratch, an online program that allows them to create a character and choreograph her movements. They also programmed robots through Lego Mindstorm kits and learned model-making.

Gwen Oster, an electrical and manufacturing instructor at Northwest Technical College who has lead similar workshops for six years, said, typically, programming is focused on training robots to fight, but with this weekend’s event, the emphasis was placed on dance.

“The goal is to have the girls create (for their robot) some kind of choreographic movement,” she said.

On Scratch, the girls learned how to program computer characters to move, such as choreographing a flash mob of ballerina dancers in a department store.

“We want to show (the girls) that we’re not just talking traditional STEM careers, but they can include design and art as well,” Oster said.