The Blessed Mother Teresa Titans are about to be known for more than their skills on the basketball court. Recently, their all-female robotics team won first place at this year’s National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) Engineering Design Competition during its conference in Rochester, NY.
This marks the first year a Canadian chapter of the organization has won first place at the competition, which included 10 other teams from the New York State.
“We started to scream, when they called our names,” said Sylvia Kuria, who’s been on the team since she started high school.
The group of girls meets twice a week under the watch of their advisors, Mary Charles Hills and Karubiel Mahari, along with mentors from Ontario Power Generation (OPG).
NSBE was started to encourage black students to enter university in the science, technology, engineering and math sectors, Hills said. “We started the chapter in 2007 and there are three students from the original group who are in grade 12 now.”
During their weekly meetings the team has various sessions that teach them about project management and how to research information and build robots in preparation for competitions. Each person on the team is given a specific role.
“The key people are the computer engineer and the mechanical engineer. They work closely to program the robot and ensure that it has been built to perform the task,” Hills said. “Then you have the industrial engineer who keeps everything together. The electrical engineer is responsible for charging the robot and ensuring that it is ready to function.”
The team’s computer engineer Kameshia Broome faced minor difficulties before the competition.
“I had to work with a mechanical engineer to program the robot and it got frustrating because sometimes things wouldn’t work. It took weeks because the software kept changing,” she said. “I eventually programmed the robot with ultrasonic, colour and light sensors, and three different motors.”
As intricate as the robot was to create, the team completed the challenge effortlessly.
There were 13 cans on a course, six of the cans were white and seven were black. The robot had to move as many of the white cans into the finish box as it could without touching any of the black cans. The robot was built with a Lego Mindstorm kit.
Though the girls are enthusiastic about engineering, many of them are considering pursuing other fields when they graduate next year.
“I really want to become a midwife,” said Simone Bucknor. Some of the other girls are considering law, social work, psychology and forensics.
According to Hills, enrolment at Blessed Mother Teresa Catholic Secondary School has risen since a few years ago, as the stigma surrounding the school has been trodden by negative reports concerning crime in the media. She hopes that school initiatives like the NSBE engineering program will encourage more students to enrol at the school and try different things.