Young boys and girls battle robots and explore STEM at SFU’s Surrey campus

Elementary school students from six schools across Surrey will learn to build and program sumo-wrestling robots at SFU’s Surrey campus.

This March and June

By Tyler Gallop

This March and July, elementary school students from six schools across Surrey will learn to build and program sumo-wrestling robots at SFU’s Surrey campus as part of Surrey Schools’ Sticks and Stars and Girls in Action programs.

The programs, a partnership between Surrey Schools, SFU’s Faculty of Applied Sciences and the HR MacMillan Space Centre, engages young students during spring and summer break with hands-on technology and science workshops.

This year, about 150 boys and 150 girls will visit the Surrey campus for two days of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-filled sessions. This is the fifth year the Sticks and Stars program will visit SFU and the second year for Girls in Action.

“At first, most of the kids start off a bit uninterested, but when you see them actually starting to try, build and program, you can see the excitement grow—especially once it’s time try the robots out,” says Parastoo Alirezaei, a fourth-year mechatronics student who helped lead the first two days of workshops on Mar. 14 and 15.

The main goal of the workshops is to showcase the opportunities in STEM in a fun and interesting way, and instill the idea that both boys and girls can succeed in these fields.

“With workshops like these, girls realize that there’s a toolset based on science and technology that they can use to help make a difference in the world,” says Janice Regan, a senior lecturer in SFU’s School of Computing Science.

“When they see that, the light comes on and excitement is ignited.”

For Tisha, who is 10 years old and in Grade five, her favourite part of the workshop was not battling robots, but the process of building and programming the robot itself.

“The programming was really hard but when the teachers helped, it was easy.”

Instead of building robots to do battle, Tisha wanted to create something a bit different, perhaps a health companion robot like Baymax from Disney’s “Big Hero 6.”

“Maybe a machine that helps people,” she says. “Maybe with old people, if they’re sick and they don’t know, they have this machine that helps tell them that they need to go to the doctor because they’re sick.”

The next group of students will visit SFU’s Surrey campus on Mar. 21–22, Mar. 23–24, July 4–5, and July 6–7.

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