If additive manufacturing is going to play a critical role in the future of industry, then education surrounding the process is more than important: it is essential for the proliferation and advancement of the technology, on all fronts.
The Germany-based Robotics Institute is one of many educational initiatives that is aimed at not only teaching young people about the ins and outs of 3D printing but also inspiring them to innovate and find career paths that engage and challenge them. Notably, the institute has placed a particular emphasis on teaching girls about AM and STEM-related technologies to give them a boost in the still male-dominated technology fields.
We recently caught up with co-founder of the Robotics Institute, Alexis Noguer, who spoke to us about the institute and its educational STEM summer programs for girls.
Welcome to the Robotics Institute
According to Noguer—who is currently the head of sales at ROLF LENK, Germany’s leading industrial metal additive manufacturing center—he was inspired to start the Robotics Institute with co-founder Anabel Requena in order to give young students access to state-of-the-art STEM training.
It is not coincidence that the institute is based in Germany: the European country is a hub for technical education and is the home of metal 3D printing. Noguer and Requena were keen to leverage this fertile environment for AM and technology to engage a younger generation—and specifically girls—in the field.
Today, the Robotics Institute offers a number of programs, including two summer camps, in collaboration with the Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH). The programs invite high school students from all around the world to participate in the English-language courses, and result in an official certification from the university.
Hurdles for girls in STEM
The co-founders—incidentally both parents to teenage girls—also started the Robotics Institute with the recognition that there are currently more opportunities for boys and men in the AM sector, largely due to imbalances in educational and research fields. According to eurostat, for instance, only about 33% of scientists and engineers in Germany are women.
Noguer highlights several reasons that women face challenges in STEM fields today. They are associated with a lack of the following:
- Female role models
- Course content that caters to female strengths and interests (team work, communication, creativity)
- Safe learning and working environments (with no fear of ridicule)
- Networking possibilities
“In some countries, like Germany, there is a cultural component that works against females picking careers in STEM-related fields,” he elaborates. “For example, when I studied engineering at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, 90% of the 17,000 students in this renowned technical university were male.
“In other countries, especially Spain and Southern Europe, the gender gap is less severe, but young students are opportunity-starved: for learning and internships. Some countries, such as Israel, which needs to make optimal use of its limited ‘manpower,’ are very advanced in motivating female STEM talent. In bringing girls together from these various environments, we are trying to make the world a smaller, friendlier and richer place.”
Overcoming challenges with education
The Robotics Institute aims to overcome all the aforementioned challenges by empowering young girls and providing them not only with a technical training geared towards 3D printing but also with a strong network of international girls with the same interests.
According to Noguer, there are three main areas that the Robotics Institute addresses:
- Teaching the basic principles of computer science, electrical engineering and CAD-based programming while leveraging creativity
- Enabling teenage girls to meet like-minded girls from other countries to enhance their personal networks
- Enabling them to learn how to use robotics to make the world a better place
“The overall objective is to increase the girls’ self-confidence and ability to pick a career in robotics or 3D printing,” he adds. “And to be able to ‘hold their own’ in a digital competitive environment.”
The question of “Girls only”
To some, the idea of a girls-only robotics and 3D printing course might seem controversial, but Noguer understands why—at least today—it is a helpful, if not necessary, thing to offer.
“Various technical universities in Germany offer Arduino, Lego and similar coding camps,” he explains. “However, it is boys who overwhelmingly take advantage of these offerings.
“After our first Robotics-Camp at TUHH only for girls—in the summer of 2018—we asked for feedback from the female participants and 2/3 replied that they preferred ‘girls-only’. This particular group of girls were not only academically outstanding, but had especially high social skills too.”
When the course organizers asked why they preferred to learn in a female environment for the STEM courses, the answer was the following:
“Where there are only girls in the group, even if several are very knowledgeable and advanced in the subject, I don’t feel embarrassed or shy to display my ignorance and ask questions. With boys, I do not have the same ease and confidence of showing I don’t know as much.”
Robotics Institute Camp
The educational summer programs offered by the Robotics Institute are hosted by TUHH, which has provided access to many of their high-tech labs and facilities. The institute offers two camps: a BASIC camp for girls and boys aged 14-17 and an ADVANCED camp for girls aged 15-18.
Noguer gave us a glimpse into each of the camp programs to better understand what the younger generation of girls (and boys, in the case of the BASIC camp) are learning.
“In the BASIC camp, teenage girls acquire knowledge in construction and CAD-based programming of diverse systems such as Arduino robot, 3D printing and laser cutting,” he says. “On the first day they brainstorm and think about a favourite book, pet or place they visited. They then go on to designing it with 3D design and modeling software, and then printing their objects on a 3D plastic printer. Another female team meanwhile builds a world map and produces it with a laser cutter. A third team builds an Arduino robot that incorporates a dynamic ultrasound distance sensor: as your hand approaches the ‘world,’ the lights in the 3D printed buildings go on.”
He continues: “In the ADVANCED camp, which lasts a week longer, STEM-Girls in addition to what they learn in BASIC get to learn about 3D printing of metals. They will print their objects in Aluminum or Titanium, thus getting an exposure to industrial 3D printing techniques that very few university students—and certainly no under-graduate students—get! This is possible through the cooperation of leading German industrial companies in the field: EOS, and UNIVERSAL ROBOTS.
“The ADVANCED team also get to visit leading industrial companies in Northern Germany that use industrial 3D printing, from aerospace to submarines.”
The 2019 edition of the Robotics Institute camp programs have already wrapped up, but young people who are interested in participating in the state-of-the-art STEM courses can apply for next year here.