Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Guest Blogger: Samantha Fountain Talks about Girls, STEM, and Robotics

I’ve done so many amazing things with Girl Scouts over the past eight years. One of the most enjoyable things I’ve done is participate in a unique cookie reward program at Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana called “CEO For a Day,” two years in a row. To win this award, I sold over 2,500 cookies both years. After working hard to sell as many Girl Scout Cookies in the cold weather as I could, it was a blast to get together with the other top four Girl Scout sellers, get the inside scoop on what goes on at Girl Scout HQ, and spend the day with the wonderful Girl Scout staff. Also, the top five sellers continue to convene for PR events such as TV interviews and autograph signings at Chicago Sky basketball games.  

Another one of my favorite Girl Scout memories is competing in the inaugural ComEd Icebox Derby competition, an event created by the CEO of ComEd to inspire more girls to enter science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields and fight to increase the meager 24 percent of STEM jobs held by women. When Girl Scouts invited me to apply for the competition, I jumped at the chance.

My team had to make a refrigerator into a racecar. After working hard with my team on our car, we
were able to win the race, and the prize was a trip to the National Flight Academy in Pensacola, Florida, where we all developed a new appreciation for and interest in aviation. I was part of the Wolf Pack squadron with three girls in my troop, and we flew giant X-12b planes in flight simulators, ate in mess halls, observed a strict curfew, and learned to respond to instructions with “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am.” I brought back to Chicago a mug from Florida’s Blue Angels, the Navy’s elite flight squadron. This year, I was invited as a special guest to the ComEd Icebox Derby, where the Blue Angels flew acrobatics overhead during the race. My fellow team member and I were shrieking with excitement, gibberish coming out of our mouths. Our adventures had come full circle.

Another big, inspiring Girl Scout STEM activity for Juniors was Marie Curie Chemistry Day, where I conducted high school chemistry experiments in a college laboratory setting. How inspiring this was to me as a fifth-grader, carefully titrating an acid!

This year, Girl Scouts is sponsoring my FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) FTC team, geared for seventh- to twelfth-grade girls. FTC is an international competition revolving around problem solving, robotics, engineering, and programming. The team is learning Java, which is a programming language that is in widespread use in the tech industry. Prior to FTC, I participated in FIRST LEGO League (FLL), which is split into four parts: Missions, Technical, Research, and Teamwork. Missions, being its most famous portion, involves teams of 3–10 kids building a robot to complete in two-and-a-half minutes as many missions as it can on a four-foot by eight-foot table. Then, in the Technical session, the teams present to judges designs for a robot that they’ve programmed, explaining to them the characteristics that make it unique. For Research, teams focus on a different important issue scientists and engineers are currently working on every year, and work to find and make an innovative solution. Finally, in a Teamwork session, a panel of judges analyzes the teams’ ability to work together on a complex question/problem within a time constraint of two to three minutes.

I remember the first year my team, the Newton Busters, competed. We had worked so hard, so many hours, and thought that we fourth-graders were surely going to crush the big eighth-graders. We got the Rookie’s Award, and we were happy with that.

The next year we made it to the state competition, and we have done so every year since. Through our PID (Proportional Integral Derivative) line follow, and our patentable and viable solutions to everyday problems, my team has grown and FLL has become part of our lifestyle, taking us as far as Germany and Australia to compete. I’m so grateful to Girl Scouts for all the opportunities that were made possible through FLL, since they were there for me from the beginning.

I’ve always been involved in STEM, playing with Snap Circuit kits and building robots from an early age, and doing projects like rewiring my basement with my dad. I love every bit of it. And I love to dive into new areas of STEM, since these fields are so expansive. There are so many possibilities—and there’s something for everyone. Making things explode for work? Reusing a fridge for a car? STEM’s the only place you’ll be able to do things like that.

At the DELL Lounge Event, I enjoyed seeing the leaps that have been made in technology, big and small. Trying on the Oculus Rift was like entering a new world. Seeing myself as a hologram was so cool as well. My two friends and I competed with three non–Girl Scouts in a recycling quiz, and one of the girls, Izzy  from Troop 41302, won a new tablet!

If I could say anything to girls about STEM and robotics, it would be to just try it. If you find you don’t like physics, try your hand at programming. There’s way more to STEM than just one topic!

You can really lose yourself in STEM activities—spending year after year after year, and hundreds of hours programming, building, brainstorming, and innovating in a basement, with your friends, or even at national competitions. And the rewards of STEM, like those of Girl Scouts, are endless.