'I'm really passionate about STEM because it seems like sometimes people think girls aren't interested in, or good at, technology,' says Melina Johnston, a seventh grader at St. Francis Solano School. 'That simply isn't true. I want to show that girls can be just as good at technology as boys can be. I want to make sure that girls get the opportunity to learn about STEM subjects, participate in STEM activities and have an equal chance to have a career in technology.'
Every Sunday since October, Melina has traveled from Sonoma to the Google campus in Mountain View to meet with five other seventh and eighth graders on her all-girl team to build, refine and program robot creations for tournament competitions in the VeX Robotics league, co-sponsored by Google and the Northern California Girl Scouts.
The VeX competitions, which are open to both boys and girls, are about building and programming a robot to solve problems during the competitions.
At their first competition on Dec. 30, Melina's team won the design award for the middle school category.
Her next tournament is the Google Middle School tournament and, after that, her team heads to the state competition.
Melina found out about the team through Girl Scouts. She is part of Troop 10112 in Sonoma.
Google is sponsoring 11 all-girl teams, buying all the necessary parts for building the robots and giving them access to Google mentors and lab space with supplies on the company campus.
Her team's robot is named Steve. According to Melina, he can pick up large cones called 'mobile goals,' stack smaller cones on top of the mobile goals and drive around. Her team even programmed Steve to solve some problems on his own by programming him in 'autonomous mode.'
Melina says that she enjoys helping with the design and building, learning what all the different parts can do and how to write code for each of the electronic parts (like the motors).
'Being able to go to the Google Lab and work on the robot was a great distraction while we were out of school and away from Sonoma during the fires,' she said.
That said, Melina would love to launch a VeX team in Sonoma.