When two Maria Carrillo High School seniors heard young girls tend to lose interest in science, mathematics, engineering and technology, they decided to do something about it.
Eden Luvishis, 17, and Alexandra Haraszti, 18, co-presidents of their school’s Society of Women Engineers chapter, started an after-school robotics team at Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter School about 11/2 years ago.
Their “Robopeople” team now consists of four sixth-grade girls and one seventh-grade boy from Rincon Valley Middle School, and they recently won two first-place prizes in the Central Valley Robotics competition for robot design and project competition.
“They did an enormous amount of work to get this team where they were,” said Steve Williams, math and science teacher at Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter School. “It’s really phenomenal. I feel quite proud of them both. It was really special for them to offer this up to their community.”
It’s a busy time for Luvishis and Haraszti, best friends juggling advanced placement classes, extracurriculars and over a dozen college applications. Nevertheless, both young women said spreading their love of science, technology, engineering and math was important to them.
A 2017 Microsoft study found that girls tend to lose interest in STEM subjects by high school for a multitude of reasons, whether it’s peer pressure or a lack of role models.
“That really upset me, and it really confused me, too, because I would see how well they performed in school and how much potential they had,” Luvishis said.
The path to the robotics team’s first-place prizes began six years ago, when Luvishis and Haraszti were sixth-graders themselves and students of Williams.
Both said their love of science was sparked by their formative years at the charter school, along with family support.
During their junior year at Maria Carrillo, the pair approached Williams, their former sixth-grade teacher, about starting a robotics team at their old school.
He liked the pitch. Williams, who co-founded Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter School in 2004, has spent nearly two decades working with Lego robotics.
The qualifying competition for the Northern California First Lego League was set to take place on Nov. 17 in Vacaville.
The robotics team met three times a week for nearly three months, including on weekends, and they raised the money to register through a sponsorship with local Soroptimist International chapter.
They persisted in their robotics work even as school was canceled for several days when widespread smoke from the Camp fire over 100 miles away sharply diminished the air quality in Sonoma County.
Luvishis hosted the students in her home, not too far from campus.
Since the wildfire smoke continued to permeate the skies, the competition was canceled with only a two-day notice. There was no refund for the $500 registration fee.
“The team was very upset and we had to look for a solution very quickly,” Luvishis said.
They reached out to Central Valley Robotics, which offered them a place at its qualifying competition on Dec. 1 in Fresno.
They raised money for the trip online, and they won first place for robot design.