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This weekend, National Geographic Explorer Erika Bergman led 30 girls from Hillsborough County on an innovative educational undertaking in a three-day Girls Underwater Robot Camp to design, build and deploy their own remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs). The participating girls come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds but possess strong skills in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math).
Titled Mission: Tampa Bay, participants spent Friday and Saturday learning basic electronics, soldering, and acrylic construction as they built their own ROVs. After assembling them, participants spent the night at The Florida Aquarium and woke up on Sunday to plan a “micro expedition” and test their robots in an exhibit. They then deployed and piloted them through the waters of Tampa Bay from the deck of the Aquarium’s catamaran, Bay Spirit II.
“This was the third year of the program, and each year it continues to amaze me to watch these girls truly transform from the day they arrive to the day they depart,” said Debbi Stone, vice president of education at The Florida Aquarium. “We really take them for a deep dive into STEM education, which empowers them as young females interested in science.”
The program aims to encourage bright students from underserved backgrounds to make the most of their desire to learn about STEM fields. Comfort Anyanwu participated the first year in 2016 as a student and came back as a mentor to continue to grow with the program.
“These three years have been an incredible experience, because the first few years I was building and learning hands-on, but now I’m also learning how to grow with the other girls personally,” said Anyanwu. “I can see myself in these students, because I know how it felt to grow from this program and emerge as a leader and become a better person because of it. I love the fact that each year there are more girls participating. There are so many jobs out there, but girls still ask if they can really do it and I say yes, yes, yes you can! Whatever you want to do and have the heart to do, go out and go get it. No one is stopping you except for yourself.”
The girls range in age from 10 to 17, and they all come from challenging circumstances. Mission: Tampa Bay aims to break the cycle of poverty by reaching out to bright students from underserved backgrounds and making the most of their desire to learn about STEM fields. These girls were selected from Hillsborough County Public Schools based on the skills they have shown in the classroom.
"We have more than 25 immersive STEM programs across Hillsborough County Public Schools, which all include a laser-like focus on STEM subjects. Mission: Tampa Bay is just an example of how we build on those experiences to create a culture of innovation, collaboration, and unity on top of STEM skills,” said Larry Plank, Director of STEM Education for Hillsborough County Public Schools. “The girls involved in Mission: Tampa Bay will undoubtedly become leaders, and this is just one example of the many opportunities available to our public school students — it’s a big part of why thousands of students’ love being a part of the STEM programs in our district.”
An exciting element this year is that 10 girls who participated in a similar program in 2016 or 2017 are returning to mentor the new participants, furthering the STEM journeys of past Mission: Tampa Bay participants.
Erika Bergman, a National Geographic Explorer and manned submersible pilot, guided the girls through their experience. Bergman is a worldwide advocate for female explorers, scientists, and engineers; she hosted the Girls Underwater Robot Camp through a partnership between National Geographic Learning and her organization, GEECs – Global Engineering & Exploration Counselors.
“Tampa Bay now has the highest concentration of open ROV pilots in the world and these girls are going to work together for the next four, five or ten years, and at that point they are our future co-pilots and ocean explorers. I’m so excited things went so successfully this weekend and I can’t wait for next year,” Bergman said.
About Mission: Tampa Bay
Mission: Tampa Bay is a collaboration between National Geographic and five members of the Tampa Bay STEM Network: Hillsborough County Public Schools, The Florida Aquarium, the Museum of Science & Industry, Million Women Mentors, and Tampa Bay TechStart.
About the Museum of Science & Industry
MOSI, the Museum of Science & Industry, is Tampa Bay's community-supported science center. At MOSI, people of all ages (this means you!) can see and do amazing things every day. MOSI (we pronounce it MOH’-zee) is the largest science center in the Southeast, and a not-for-profit magnet for S.T.E.A.M. innovation and cutting-edge education where we make a difference in people’s lives by making science real for people of all ages and backgrounds. For more information about MOSI, visit mosi.org.
About The Florida Aquarium
The Florida Aquarium is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit institution whose mission is to entertain, educate and inspire stewardship about our natural environment. The Florida Aquarium is home to more than 20,000 aquatic plants and animals representing species from Florida and around the world. For more information about The Florida Aquarium, visit flaquarium.org.