– Lakeside Middle School Robotics Team: Ananya, Vedashrii, Sreya and Molly

Supporting Stem Initiatives

We’re passionate about helping students learn more about STEM, and through our academic program we give students the opportunity to collaborate on STEM-related projects involving innovative technologies like data analytics, robotics and AI. Since 2011, we have partnered with a number of universities to sponsor research projects, internships, robotics teams, scholarships, and other educational programs that provide students with access to hands-on learning and real-world engineering experience.

By supporting STEM efforts in this way, we offer students a wide range of opportunities to develop the skills needed for a successful career while also helping to bridge the talent gap. Our focus on diversity and inclusion speaks to our commitment to corporate responsibility and using our technology for good to make a positive impact.  

This past year we proudly sponsored three robotics teams, including NSU University School and American Heritage School in Florida, and Lakeside Middle School in Georgia. All three schools made it to their respective state competitions, with NSU University School competing at VEX Robotics Worlds and  American Heritage School competing at the FIRST® Championship . Every year since our academic program began, we are amazed by the talent and innovation these young technologists demonstrate through their hard work and dedication. It’s also impressive to see each school encouraging female participation in their robotics programs. We were especially proud to see Lakeside Middle School’s all-girls VEX Robotics team end their season with two awards. But perhaps more importantly, we were touched to hear these students talk about the friendships and memories they’ve made and a strong desire to follow their passion in STEM education.

I had the pleasure to meet the girls from the Lakeside Middle School robotics team and ask them a few questions about their interests and experiences. Here’s what they had to say.

How old were you when you first became interested in robotics? Did you have a role model that encouraged your interest in robotics or STEM?

Ananya: I actually became interested in robotics this year. I was hesitant at first, but realized this experience would be very helpful as I begin applying for colleges.

Vedashrii: Ever since I was a child, I have been interested in finding ways to add new features to existing objects that make them more useful. I guess you could say I’m my own mentor! This interest in building things led me to discover robotics when I was about 11, and my passion for robotics only grew as I got older. So imagine my excitement when I learned of the VEX Robotics team at Lakeside. My time with this team has been wonderful. I’ve learned so much already about robotics, and now I’m hungry for more!

Sreya: When I was 7 or 8 years old, I watched a movie called “Robo” in my native language (Telugu) and it really got me interested in robotics. Later, I also developed an interest in Healthcare/Medical science and plan to take healthcare related courses in high school and college. When my father told me how AI and robotics will play a vital role in the medical field, he recommended that in addition to medicine I should learn all I could about robotics, specifically robotic surgery. I’m sure the knowledge I’ve gained in our robotics program will really help me in my future career in medicine.

Molly: When I was in first grade, I loved building models with Legos and Kiwi Kits. My parents noticed and began encouraging my interests by giving me books on engineering and enrolling me in engineering and robotics camps and activities.

“My favorite book was Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty. It showed me that girls can dream, design, build and achieve as an inventor and engineer!”

How many years have you been on the Lakeside robotics team, what was your role on the team, and did you seek other girls to be on your team or did it just work out this way?

Ananya: I’ve been on the team for just one year as a builder and researcher. Having an all-girls team was something special, and I’m so glad it just worked out this way as we’ve all become such good friends.

Vedashrii: I was one of the 2 more experienced members on the team. And though we never confirmed our roles, our team did try to elevate each others’ different talents and specialties. I would consider myself a designer and driver. We never intended to be a gender-based team, because we didn’t see this as a boys versus girls situation. In fact, we still frequently communicate and strategize with the other teams we’ve met, regardless of gender.

Sreya: I’m only one year into my role as a driver as I joined Lakeside Middle School in the eighth grade. As I was a newcomer to the robotics team, I had little knowledge about what my robotics capabilities would be, but now I can say I’m a real robotics engineer!

Molly: I have been on the Vex Robotics team for two years. This year, we had five girls on our team and I was so proud to enter our robot in the Forsyth County Competition.

How did you feel participating in your first competition? Did you face any challenges during the season (either individually or as a team) and how did you overcome them?

Ananya: The robotics team was a new experience, for sure. By the time of the competition, our robot was still not completely ready, but we just pushed forward. I was nervous, and while I knew our chances of winning were slim, we were very close to making it to the finals. When I saw how far our project had come, it made me so happy and proud to see what my team could accomplish!

Vedashrii: I remember my first competition very well. It was just Molly and me in seventh grade. I walked into the venue telling myself, “Don’t stress out. You’re only here for the experience,” but I admit I was on the verge of tears. Honestly, our robot barely worked, but at the last second of building it a miracle happened. Our robot was working and we were ready to win! The competition was terrifying as all the other teams seemed either better or older than us rookies. But we realized that winning the competition meant having good chemistry with the other teams, so we tried being as energetic and friendly with them as possible. When we won second place, I was on cloud nine. I remember Dr. Woods, our robotics coach, congratulating us and me proudly telling my parents about my achievement. That moment was so important to me. I remember telling Molly that I definitely was going to do robotics again next year.

“Our biggest challenge was ourselves and having little confidence, but we continued on with our build.”

Sreya: As it was my first year on the Lakeside robotics team, it was quite challenging initially because I had little knowledge and zero experience competing. Later, with the help from my team members, I learned how to build, drive and understand the competition format. Pretty soon I was very excited to participate in my first competition!

Molly: Participating in the competition was so cool and challenging! We loved our matches and had a great time cheering for ourselves and the other teams. Everyone was so supportive of one another. There were challenging times, like when our robot failed and we had to repair it during the actual competition. One of the arms on our robot malfunctioned and we couldn’t continue competing. But we still got to continue competing in a way as we donated parts from our robot to our teammates who were moving on to the State competition.

What was your favorite memory?

Ananya: Definitely the competition. It was so much fun and I regret not joining the robotics team earlier.

Vedashrii: The night before the competition, we stayed at school until 7pm working on our robot. We were all stressed out until I pulled a joke, and the laughter helped perk us up.  I can look back on my time with my friends and proudly say, “the eighth grade robotics team was full of smiles!”

Sreya: My favorite memory? I actually have two. First, my participation in this year’s VEX Robotics competition, and secondly, winning two awards (All-rounder and Best Costume) for my school are fantastic memories.

Molly: My favorite memory was going to the local competition, working with my teammates and building/operating our own robot! We loved the challenge and experience!

Will you continue robotics in high-school, and looking beyond, are you planning for a career in STEM?

Ananya: Of course! Robotics is a lot of fun and I can’t wait to continue next year. When I was younger, I always found STEM to be kind of lame. But after doing VEX robotics, my opinion on it changed. I want to continue to go down the technology path, (right now I’m thinking something in cybersecurity), but it will always be STEM for me.

Vedashrii: I am thinking about having a career in STEM, specifically in biology. Ever since I was little, I always had the aspiration to help people. Teachers would ask me “What do you want to do as your future job?” and every year I would say I wanted to be a doctor. The reason behind it being the compassion I always wanted to show to other people. I have kind and loving parents, who encouraged me to focus on who I am as a person first before focusing on grades. They told me, “Before you were a student, a daughter, and a friend, you were a person. Before it all you were a human. So, humanity is what you shall have forever.” Beautiful, isn’t it? And I think my time on the robotics team gave me the self-confidence and STEM skills that will help me in my future career in healthcare.

Sreya: As I’m aiming for healthcare related courses in high school and college, if any healthcare/medical courses include robotics in the future (particularly robotic surgery), I will definitely be taking those courses.

“My father stated that in addition to medical knowledge, if I have a fair knowledge on robotics, it will be a unique skill to lead my career in the medical field successfully.”

Molly: Definitely. I plan to attend the engineering pathway in high school with a focus on mechanical engineering and/or robotics, which will prepare me for my engineering courses in college, and eventually, my career.

What would you tell younger girls who are interested, but might be hesitant to join the robotics program?

Ananya: Just join! It doesn’t matter if the majority of the robotics teams are all boys. If you are interested, then you should do it. Personally, when I was joining VEX robotics, I didn’t even notice we were the only girls there.

“Robotics was something I wanted to do – and my gender was not going to stop me.”

Vedashrii: In my room, I dedicate a wall to quotes of encouragement, because I choose to surround myself with positivity and kindness. And I have a quote by Erin Hanson that says, “What if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?” I respect this quote because of the strength it can give to a person. It’s better to use a part of your life than to lose it, right? If you love something, then you love it, period. No one can tell you otherwise.  A wise man will not be able to draw your future, but you can. Create the shapes you like and rearrange them to your heart’s content.

Sreya: The future is AI and Robotics and joining the robotics team is a good choice for anyone who is interested in STEM-related fields like robotics and engineering.

Molly: Go for it! Join the robotics clubs, seek the supplies and support you need, and enter competitions when you have the opportunity. Competitions are a challenging and an excellent learning experience. Meeting teammates before and after school is a good way to make friends, learn new things, and have a lot of fun!

Take Aways

Reading through these responses, I am impressed with the courage, inquisitiveness, and comradery these young women exhibited. It’s so inspirational to see how they are pushing boundaries at such a young age. I see bright futures ahead for all of them, and if we are fortunate enough, they might be engineers working for our company one day.

We are proud that our technology, collaboration, and sponsorships have had such a profound impact to the business and our community.  It is through efforts such as these that our HPCC Systems Academic Program is enriching the lives of students by helping them follow their passion in STEM and fulfill their dreams.

In closing, Dr. Jeff Woods, the robotics team coach at Lakeside Middle School, encapsulates the importance and value of investing in STEM education. “Advances in STEM fields like robotics, engineering, and AI will have a profound impact on our future. It is vital our society identify and nurture young STEM enthusiasts now, so they have the skills and experience they need to successfully move forward. The sponsorship from HPCC Systems has allowed our robotics program to grow, including more females participating in robotics. I am grateful we have been able to spotlight our all-girls team who are perfect role models demonstrating the importance of STEM education.”

Read more here about our student success stories and the HPCC Systems academic program.

About the Author

Trish McCall,

Sr Director Program Management, LexisNexis® Risk Solutions

Trish leads initiatives working with corporate and academia to help drive innovation and value of HPCC Systems while also supporting corporate responsibility, diversity and inclusion, and STEM initiatives for students. Trish has been with LexisNexis Risk Solutions for more than 35 years and is also the co-founder of the ADAM Program, a tool donated to The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® by LexisNexis Risk Solutions to assist with the distribution of missing child posters and recovery efforts.