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Friday, Oct 20, 2017
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Girls get a taste of tech at camp

TAMPA - Ryann Koehler has no idea she's exactly what the country wants. The 14-year-old is accustomed to the "popular" kids looking at her with blank faces when she talks about the things she thinks are neat, like robots and Legos. But she's surrounded by kindred spirits this week at a technology camp created just for girls like her, at Hillsborough Community College. They're learning to use a computer program to instruct Lego robots to turn left or right with the clap of their hands.
"It's pretty cool, almost like having your own little servant," Koehler said. Camp teacher Elizabeth Heli, with Greco Middle School's pre-engineering program, said she's having a blast watching the girls discover the power of technology. For the past five years, the Florida Advanced Technology Education Center has offered week-long technology camps at HCC's Brandon campus, where the education center is based. Two years ago, it created a section exclusively for middle school girls, who are at a vulnerable time in their lives emotionally and educationally, said Janice Mukhia, spokeswoman for the technology education center. "We realized that girls are so important to STEM," said Marie Boyette, associate director of the education center. "They bring a new sense of creativity and discovery that our world so desperately needs." What is needed, education officials say, are more students in flagging STEM studies. That's science, technology, engineering and math. Women in particular have veered away from those disciplines, said a report earlier this year by the White House Council on Women and Girls. It said that woman make up only about a quarter of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math, fields that will need 20 percent more people in the next decade. The Florida Advanced Technology Education Center is trying to hook girls early, Mukhia said. It's getting through to Koehler and her camp mates, who ended the week racing their robots, which were each the size of a small dog, through a maze made of water bottles. Autumn Thompson, 13, said she's never had so much control over anything. Life is unpredictable, "but you can make a robot do what you want it to do." Until now, Koehler had been planning on becoming a veterinarian. But now she's edging toward engineering and thinking about trying to make an animal robot. Maybe an owl, she said, because people see them as intellectual.

lpeterson@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7834 Twitter @TBO_USFetc

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