The Kent Chamber of Commerce’s Byron Ford, who is part of the chamber’s Green River College education committee, works with students in the Kentridge High School library at the STEM field-trip event for middle school girls on Monday. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

STEM program opens young minds of Kent’s middle school students

Tomorrow’s engineers were busy Monday building and programming robotic projects in the Kentridge High School library.

It was all part of Girls FIRST, a full-day field trip for about 80 young minds interested in hands-on learning with machines while peeking at the possibilities using STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) practices.

With adult instructors and high school mentors by their side, seventh- and eighth-graders from Kent’s Meeker and Meridian middle schools plied their raw skills to challenging robotics. Robots were tested, improved and tested again. Girls learned quickly on the job.

“Cool stuff,” one girl said between glances at the laptop computer and attaching circuitry to her robot.

The purpose of the Girls FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) initiative is to recruit and engage girls 6 to 18 years old in FIRST programs and support their teams through female mentorship and resources.

According to Erin McCallum, president of FIRST Washington, the initiative helps to build a pipeline of young women of diverse backgrounds in STEM-related fields through FIRST programs, which, in turn, will build a more balanced work force in the state.

“And it’s also about working with others, working as a team,” McCallum said.

FIRST Washington, a nonprofit organization, and its partners are bringing STEM education to more schools in an effort to inspire young students to become science and technology leaders. Girls FIRST is another way to reach kids.

Karina Cisneros, a Kentridge senior and president of the school’s robotics club, plans to study engineering at Montana State University next year. She liked what she saw Monday, young girls getting a chance to explore the STEM world.

“We want them to get interested and be a part of something that will help in the future as a career,” Cisneros said. “Getting them interested in it at a young age is important.”

Monday’s field trip was a collaboration with FIRST Washington, the Kent Chamber of Commerce and Kent School District, with the help of corporate partners. The Boeing Co. and Oberto were primary sponsors, with contributions from Amazon and Denali Federal Credit Union.

Amazon on Monday even surprised students from Kentridge with a special donation of $10,000 to FIRST Washington to support robotics teams in the school district. Amazon supports STEM education programs to better prepare students for future in-demand jobs. The donation to FIRST Washington will allow for more students to pursue STEM education outside of the classroom.

“We’re proud to give back to communities where our associates live and work,” said Arkajit Rakshit, director of operations at Amazon’s Kent fulfillment center. “Our growing team in Kent, which started fulfilling customer orders in March 2016, is honored to support the young innovators of tomorrow.”

Derek Dykman, a business banker with Denali Federal Credit Union, oversees the robotic work of Fatema Metwally, an eighth-grader at Meridian Middle School, in the Kentridge High School library at the STEM event for girls on Monday. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

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