Robogals was founded as a student club at the University of Melbourne in July 2008, arising from some conversations between Robogals founder Marita Cheng and the then Head of Electrical Engineering, A/Prof. Jamie Evans. The idea was to run a LEGO robotics competition for girls schools around Melbourne to increase interest in engineering, and the teams would be supported with training in the lead-up to the competition.
A founding team was formed, consisting of engineering and science students Marita Cheng, Mark Parncutt, Kelly Chiu, Ann Chee Lim and Vi Vu. In that first semester, Robogals taught LEGO robotics at five schools, of which three entered the competition. As early as September 2008, the university filmed our activities for a video podcast.
Much was learnt from that initial experience. In late 2008, the size of the executive committee was reduced from 13 people down to the six positions that we still use today in all Robogals chapters worldwide. It was also decided at this time to leverage existing competitions like FIRST LEGO League and RoboCup Junior rather than run our own, instead focussing Robogals’ efforts on delivering robotics workshops in schools, running events that engage girls in engineering, and encouraging the girls schools to enter existing robotics competitions, with mentoring from Robogals volunteers.
Kelly Chiu became president of Robogals in Melbourne while founder Marita Cheng was on exchange to Imperial College London in the first semester of 2009. With the help of local engineering students Aakanksha Chhikara and Sonya Chan, Robogals London was formed – our second chapter!
In June that year, Robogals began thinking about further expansion. The idea was fairly simple: invite six girls from each of four Australian universities to Melbourne for three days and teach them how to set up a Robogals chapter. They would then return to their home city and become the inaugural executive committee of the new chapter. Through much negotiation via email (Marita was still in London), the University of New South Wales, University of Adelaide, University of Queensland and the University of Western Australia were all brought on board. An email was sent asking female engineering students from those universities to apply through an online form, which was followed by a phone interview. The “Robogals Bootcamp”, as it was called, was held in at the University of Melbourne from 29 September to 1 October, and spawned those four new chapters, bringing us to a total of six!
Coinciding with the Bootcamp was our first major foray into the mainstream media with our Guinness World Record attempt for the World’s Largest Robot Dance. Despite the record not being officially accepted due to a technicality, the record-breaking attempt got us onto primetime national television (The 7pm Project, Channel 10, 29 Sep 2009) and other outlets including ABC Radio 774 (which did a live cross to the dance scene), 3AW, Nova 100, The Age, the Herald Sun and many others.
Many of the new chapters began recruiting university students and contacting schools in the remaining weeks of second semester 2009, gearing up for a great year in 2010!
The academic year began with all five of our Australian chapters setting up a stall during their university’s Orientation Week to spread the word about Robogals and recruit new members. Robogals UNSW (in Sydney) became the first of our new chapters to get out there and teach in schools. Others followed soon behind!
In April, Robogals ran another Bootcamp, but this time in the UK. Engineering students from four British and one Irish university came to Imperial College London 24-25 April to be trained in how to set up their own Robogals chapter back home!
Also that month, Robogals WA participated in the SciTech Science Awareness Festival in Kalgoorlie.
In July, Robogals UNSW ran its first holiday program, where parents could sign up their daughters directly. This inspired interest among other chapters in running their own holiday program the following year.
In August, Robogals Melbourne ran the Robogals Science and Engineering Expo in partnership with National Science Week – our first big ‘science fair’-type event.
In September, the Bootcamp, now renamed SINE (Seminars Inducting New Exec) was held at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. In addition to being the national conference for our five existing Australian chapters, it also saw the introduction of our first New Zealand chapter at the University of Otago.
This month also marked the beginning of a new academic year in the UK, which saw many of our British chapters start to take off! Manchester became the first of those new chapters conduct a school visit, with London and Edinburgh having also done so by the end of the year.
In October, Robogals founder Marita Cheng was named by national radio station Triple J as one of their “25under25 and smashin’ it” following their search all across Australia for 25 amazing young people under the age of 25!
2010 finished with a total of 1,500 girls impacted by Robogals worldwide through robotics workshops in schools, holding events, and mentoring in robotics competitions.
February saw the UK & Europe SINE (Seminars Inducting New Exec, or national conference) held successfully at the University of Manchester. In addition to attendance from our existing chapters in the region, engineering students attended from Sheffield, Leeds and even Delft in the Netherlands. Robogals now had a total of 15 chapters in five countries.
In March, thanks to the generosity of the Cochlear Foundation, we launched the Robogals Rural and Regional programme, where female engineering students from regional areas of Australia will run their own Robogals-branded event in their city. It is being piloted initially in Victoria in the first half of the year.
Update March 2012: this page will be updated in due course with our most recent history. In the meantime have a look at the year-in-review newsletter to see what we did in 2011
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