Lane Tobin, an Amazon manager, right, helps middle-schooler Destiny Mattson with her robot during Tuesday’s STEM event. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

Lane Tobin, an Amazon manager, right, helps middle-schooler Destiny Mattson with her robot during Tuesday’s STEM event. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

Amazon, partners help show the way, the possibilities

Kent middle school girls test their skills at day-long STEM robotics competition

Between bites of her lunch, Mahek Nizar pondered the question.

Why the interest in robotics with her heart possibly set on making a career out of medicine some day?

“I want to know how it is used properly with the medical field,” replied the Mill Creek Middle School eighth-grader. “I came here wanting to learn how people can come together to build something that’s going to benefit us all.”

Nizar was among 80 Mill Creek and Mattson middle school girls who visited Amazon’s Kent Fulfillment Center on Tuesday to get a closer look and tackle a hands-on assignment: carefully design and build intricate robots and move them to computer-dictated commands. They also saw how workplace robots and machinery can swiftly move people and product at an Amazon epicenter warehouse.

The young minds were special guests – the first time at Amazon’s Kent complex – for the third annual STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) competition – a day-long, skill-building, robot-making, show-and-tell challenge put on to introduce and engage girls to an industry of many career possibilities.

Amazon – in partnership with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Washington, the Kent School District and Kent Chamber of Commerce – hosted the event in which young female would-be engineers discovered how to build robots and participate in a mock robotic competition.

Kentridge High School’s FIRST Washington robotics team served as mentors, with Amazon managers providing their expertise and Chamber members encouraging girls to pursue their interest in STEM-related fields.

The purpose of the Girls FIRST Initiative is to recruit and engage girls 6-18 years old in robotic programs and support their teams through female mentorship and resources.

Amazon stepped up, opening its doors and resources, providing space and tools, serving lunch and giving tours of its perpetual warehouse operations. Amazon stands on the forefront of automation, finding new ways of getting robots to do the work once handled by employees.

The company giant also surprised FIRST Washington with a $10,000 donation to support the Girls FIRST Initiative and other local STEM education programs in Kent.

Such events intrigued and inspired Sally Smith, the Amazon center general manager, to follow a path to a rewarding career in engineering. She hopes Amazon can entertain future STEM events for youth.

“It’s very personal because I started at this same age, with activities like this. This is where it all began,” Smith said. “If you can open their eyes to careers and show them how many different women are in these fields, it can make all the difference.”

Lori Paxton, director of career and technical education for the Kent School District, was impressed with the professional setting and embraced the purpose of the visit.

“Not only is it an amazing location physically, but it provides so many of these awesome Amazon employees to come help,” Paxton said. “Where it is lot more difficult to get people out to the schools for a whole day, they (mentors and industry pros) are already here … to help out.”

Such competitions are important, Paxton said, to get more girls interested in robotics and other tech fields. The earlier girls are introduced to STEM-field programs the better, she said. High schools need more girls pursuing STEM-related careers.

“It needs to start in elementary, not just middle schools,” she said. “It’s about opportunity … so many students are just not aware.”

Alex Wilson, a Kentridge High School senior, got hooked early. He joined the school’s robotics club as a freshman and hasn’t looked back. A mentor at Tuesday’s competition, he plans to go to college and become an engineer so he can create things.

He welcomes students to consider STEM careers, especially girls.

“STEM traditionally has been a male-dominated field, but nowadays things are changing,” Wilson said. “Having that diversity, not only in the work place but in a group of people designing ideas, can bring so much more to the table. That’s something that’s fundamentally important.”

Serra McMurray, a Mattson seventh-grader who is interested in aeronautical engineering, enjoyed the challenge of building a robot responsive to her team’s call. It performed all right.

“I learned that teamwork is important,” she said, “and that sometimes doing things alone is not productive.”


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Sally Smith, Amazon’s Kent Fulfillment Center general manager, looks on as Kent middle school students participate in the STEM event. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

Sally Smith, Amazon’s Kent Fulfillment Center general manager, looks on as Kent middle school students participate in the STEM event. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

Eighty Mill Creek and Mattson middle school girls came to Amazon’s Kent Fulfillment Center on Tuesday to build and test robots. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

Eighty Mill Creek and Mattson middle school girls came to Amazon’s Kent Fulfillment Center on Tuesday to build and test robots. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

Serra McMurray, a Mattson seventh-grader, reaches for her team’s robot after doing a run during the STEM event Tuesday. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

Serra McMurray, a Mattson seventh-grader, reaches for her team’s robot after doing a run during the STEM event Tuesday. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

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