Robots for Everyone

A pioneering program at the University of Memphis aims to get more teen girls excited about STEM education.

Exploring robotics is not just an activity for boys. In fact, a program sponsored in part by TVA at University of Memphis is all about getting teen girls excited about robotics and other careers that draw on a solid science, technology, engineering and math—or STEM—education.

Girls Experiencing Engineering (GEE) is an interactive summer program in a series of one week, 20-hour intensive sessions designed to raise the interest and awareness of career opportunities for women in STEM fields. Middle and high school girls are part of projects that include learning how to program simple robots to complete challenges, such as navigating a maze.

students working on a robot

The program started in 2004, drawing students from both public and private schools, including low-income zip codes. All the weeklong sessions are held on the U of M campus, with engineering faculty serving as instructors.

That means along with the chance to participate in a robotics laboratory, participants get access to real mentors. “We take the time to talk with them about their future—SAT tests, college plans and anything else they need,” says Dr. Stephanie Ivey, Associate Dean for Research at the College of Engineering.

The GEE program also continues into the school year, with after-school sessions. “We want to see these girls come back next summer,” explains Ivey.

In fact, most of the student advisors helping with the program this year are past participants. Ivey hopes that success rate will translate into the real world. “We now have real data that shows these girls are more likely to follow STEM paths than their peers. We have lots of great success stories.”

That’s a great thing, according to TVA Director Lynn Evans, as doors are now wide open to women in STEM fields. “Women are very under-represented in STEM fields and that they have every opportunity to succeed if they work hard and apply themselves,” she said when she spoke to the girls at the end of the program.

For more information on the GEE program, visit the University of Memphis’ Girls Experiencing Engineering page.

TVA Community Relations

TVA has a proud history of serving the people of the Tennessee Valley region. With the signing of the original TVA Act by FDR in 1933, Congress charged TVA with ensuring the economic, environmental, social and physical wellbeing of the people in its service area. Converting this commitment into action is the role of TVA's Community Relations program. To find out how STEM education fits in, click here.