By Courtney Mattison
When it comes to women’s education these days, opportunities abound—especially to get young women interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). As of 2013, only about 25% of American STEM degree holders were women, but universities, nonprofits and the White House alike are working hard to change that by introducing programs and incentives aimed at inspiring girls and women to pursue careers in STEM fields. One especially exciting new organization is called Global Engineering & Exploration Counselors (GEECs). Founded by National Geographic Young Explorer and submarine pilot Erika Bergman and marine science and technology communicator and educator Samantha Wishnak, GEECs is creating opportunities for teenage girls to explore the ocean (and their interests in STEM) using underwater robots, also known as remotely operated vehicles or ROVs. But wait, it gets better. The girls build the robots themselves!
Girls Underwater Robot Camp participants spend the first day or two of camp learning basic electronics, soldering, and acrylic construction by building an OpenROV underwater robot kit as a small team. They then calibrate and test the machine and conduct their own “micro expedition,” setting out into the field to explore underwater. While piloting the OpenROV themselves they learn how to communicate their discoveries, sharing them with the world through a digital field journal on OpenExplorer.com.
This camp is GEECs’ pilot program intended to give its teenage participants immersive experiences with real-world applications of STEM concepts—literally allowing girls to test the waters of becoming ocean explorers, scientists and engineers. By encouraging girls to collaborate and teach themselves how to build underwater robots—all before college—GEECs’ Girls Underwater Robot Camps are indeed showing young women that they are smart and capable enough to enter nontraditional careers in engineering and exploration. The Mission Blue team had the pleasure of seeing GEECs founder Erika Bergman speak at Autodesk’s Design Night back in April. Watch the video below produced by Mission Blue’s Brett Garling to see just how inspiring she is. With roots as a self-described small-town diesel mechanic-turned-submarine engineer, Bergman leads by example. She thinks of GEECs as a mentorship program, “like big sisters with an ocean and exploration focus.” By training women to become global engineering and exploration counselors and lead underwater robot camps in their own communities, these mentors (GEECs!) are sure to create ripples of inspiration among girls around the globe. When speaking of her own inspiration, Bergman highlights role models including Mission Blue founder and National Geographic Explorer in Residence Dr. Sylvia Earle and deep sea biologist and submersible pilot Dr. Cindy Lee Van Dover—leaders who have cracked open the door to women in science. Now, Bergman says, it’s time for the next generation to form a network and work collaboratively, bolstering each other’s efforts as women in STEM fields.
As Bergman points out in the video above, there are very few submersibles exploring the ocean today. Lack of funding for ocean exploration technology is a leading factor, and many ocean explorers and advocates including Dr. Earle believe that the United States should establish an ocean program much like the now-downsized U.S. Space Program. After all, 95% of the ocean is still unexplored, with countless unknown species threatened by human-caused climate change, acidification and overfishing. Perhaps some of the young ladies involved in the GEECs robot camps will grow up to establish the U.S. Ocean Program. Or perhaps they’ll pioneer exploration from the private sector at places like Deep Ocean Exploration and Research (or DOER Marine for short)—the submersible and ROV engineering and consulting company founded in 1992 by Dr. Earle and now run by her daughter, Liz Taylor, in California. The most recent Girls Underwater Robot Camp was held at DOER Marine last weekend, giving participants a glimpse at a real-world engineering space that is helping shape the future of marine exploration. Onward and downward! Learn all about Girls Underwater Robot Camp in less than a minute in the video below: To learn more about Global Engineering and Exploration Counselors, visit www.thegeecs.com To learn more about DOER, visit www.doermarine.com