Building Futures, Not Just Robots

Any given day, you’ll find Diavion, Jordan, Akayla, Mallorie and R’moni at school in Washington Park, Illinois.

During school, they’re your typical 11-year-old girls; after school, they’re transformed into a scientist, chemist, engineer, Supreme Court Justice and first female president — the face of the future.

Together, they’re the Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois’ FIRST Lego League, also known as the Robotic Gems.

The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Program, provides girls ages 9-14 with quality experiences in key areas including healthy living, financial literacy, community service and leadership. United Way’s partnership in funding the Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois introduces these leaders of tomorrow to real-world engineering challenges by having them design, build, test and program Lego robots to complete themed tasks. In turn, this program helps with critical-thinking skills, something that will be important in their future careers.

“It’s not just about Legos and building robots. It’s about programming and teamwork, which is very important because [the girls are] going to have to know that all throughout life,” said Aleta Placide, co-coach of the Robotic Gems. “It gets them involved in math and science, and allows them to free their minds.”

“The reason I’m doing the Lego League is because I really love experimenting with different things,” Jordan said. “It’s given me experience so when I’m older and want to do something with chemistry or engineering, I can do it.”

“I’m learning about life obstacles,” R’moni said. “The robots overcome certain obstacles, and that’s kind of like my life — overcoming obstacles, jumping through hoops and doing different things.”

After weeks of practice and preparation, the girls were ready for their first regional tournament. With excitement high and the clock set, the group received their box of Legos and began sorting them by size. They then assembled the robots — connecting the motors, attachments and sensors. Next, they wired them according to tasks matched with the competition’s theme — Senior Solutions. Finally, the girls put their hard work to the test.

It worked. The robot the team built successfully pushed in a chair, finished a quilt and bowled. The feeling of achievement Diavion and her teammates experienced was incredible. “We were so happy that we had accomplished it. Everybody was screaming; some of us high-fived and hugged. We were proud that we put all this work into it and it worked,” she said.

“It made me proud because that was my first time engineering and programming a robot,” Akayla said with a smile. “I was determined to do it even though I didn’t know how to do it.”

In the end, the Robotic Gems placed 10th of 14 in the tournament and received the Core Values Award for Best Team Corroboration. Although they did not proceed to the next level of competition, earning the Core Values Award was a big accomplishment for the team.

“I was nervous, but we did something that we didn’t even think we had the ability to do and actually won an award as a rookie team,” said Karmilia Prood, a Robotic Gems coach. “Because of United Way and Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois, we’ve been afforded an opportunity that we never would’ve had without their help. With this program, we’re able to introduce the girls to areas and careers they might not have thought about pursuing before.”

“Thanks to United Way, these girls are not just learning about Legos; they’re learning that they can be anything they want to be,” Aleta said proudly of the team. “The sky’s the limit.”

And the Robotic Gems are proof of this.

“We can become anything we want to become!” Mallorie cheered.

Watch The Robotic Gems' Story

About Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois

Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place. Their goal is to ensure that every girl throughout Southern Illinois will have the opportunity to benefit from the Girl Scout Leadership Experience so that she can make a difference in her family, her community, her country and the world. They have been a United Way supported agency since 1985.