There’s an engineering and robotics club at a western Loudoun school that nearly every girl in class wants to be a part of.
Hillsboro Charter Academy, now in its second year, created a club called Girls in GEAR (Guiding Engineering, Aerospace, and Robotics) for fourth and fifth graders. The club encourages girls to explore science, technology, engineering, and math through hands-on projects. They meet each Monday afternoon in the school’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) Lab to build and program robots, 3D print whatever they can dream up, and hear from women in the community about their work in science- and engineering-related fields.
It’s the most popular club at Hillsboro Charter Academy—of the school’s 21 fourth and fifth graders, all but two are members.
“It’s really, really fun because you learn more stuff about engineering, and you get to build stuff,” said 9-year-old Lucy Keating, who joined the club after she heard her older sister talk about what she was building and learning.
Megan Tucker, the school’s STEAM Specialist and Girls in GEAR club advisor, said she wants to equip the girls to encourage other students at Hillsboro Charter Academy that everybody can learn something from engineering, aerospace and robotics—and have fun while they’re at it. She’s seen the girls in the club become stronger leaders, who are quick to help peers and younger students with their work.
“I didn’t want what they’re learning to be isolated within the club,” Tucker said. “They’re ambassadors of STEAM, and they’re taking what they learn in the club after school into the classrooms.”
The club has also built the girls’ confidence. Tucker gave the example of a fourth-grader who shied away from learning the 3D printing software because she was certain it would be too hard. Tucker didn’t push her, but mentioned the idea of using the software to design and print a necklace pendant to wear to school.
“This was all that the girl needed to be motivated to learn the 3D printing software program. She made a beautiful charm with a heart in the middle and proudly wears it to school,” she said. “She was also the first person to print an original 3D design, and she ended up helping all the other girls effectively use the program.”
And several of the Girls in GEAR say what they’ve learned in the club is shaping their interests outside of school, and beyond.
Fourth-grader Hazel Herring has a dream of landing a career as an actress or singer, but she considers the Girls in GEAR club a fun way to learn how the world operates. “I feel like I understand how things work, which helps in a lot of my classes.”
Club member Julia Kover, 11, could see herself following in her dad’s footsteps and one day working in computer engineering. “I really like coding,” she said. “I can be hard sometimes. It makes you think, which can be fun.”
Lucy plans to be a doctor, singer, or soccer player when she grows up. “I know that sounds like a lot, but I want to do it all.”
The club’s impact has caught the attention of the Community Foundation of Northern Virginia, which recently announced that Girls in GEAR won a $13,000 grant from its Business Women’s Giving Circle program.
Tucker plans to use the grant money to buy Chrome books, iPads, robots, and filament for the 3D printer.
Now, the girls want to share some of what they’ve learned with their male counterparts. Tucker is launching an auxiliary workshop series, called Boys in BOTS (Building Our Technology Stewards) where the Girls in GEAR create and facilitate workshops for the boys to explore 3D printing, robotics, coding, and rocketry.
“This is another opportunity to build the girls’ leadership skills and confidence,” Tucker said. The club members, she added, are becoming lifelong technology stewards.