L-R Velma Faalilo and Helena Dou'ble.

Twenty-two Rotorua Girls' High School students have been getting first-hand experience making robots in the University of Waikato’s engineering labs.

The 13 and 14 year old girls are one of two school groups coming to the University this month, in collaboration with the PTC Trust. The lab was filled with laughter, as small groups of girls wielded screwdrivers to build their machines from scratch. Fourteen-year-old Helena Dou’ble says it was the sound of frustration. “Was it a challenge? Yeah, I’ve got to be real, it really really was.”

Helena was interested in robotics before volunteering to come on the visit. “But I didn’t really know what it was. Coming to the University means I could physically try it out, and get to see a bit about what engineering is too.” Helena says it’s a bit soon to decide on what university she’s going to, “but there’s a good chance I will be going one day".

For Helena’s partner making the robot, 14-year-old Velma Faalilo, the people were the best thing.  “It was a good time, the tutors were really good, and easy to talk to. They didn’t make me feel like I was asking too many questions.”

Overseeing their work was Engineering lecturer Dr Shen Hin Lim. He says the aim was to give the girls hands-on experience making functional robots. “They’re building rubbish sweeper robots. Later they’ll be putting them to work, using the robots to collect up rubbish and dispose of it, so there is also a strong environmental message here as well.”

Girls' High science teacher David Groot says the girls are coming up to subject choice for Year 11, so the opportunity to come to the University of Waikato opens their eyes up to science and engineering. “They’ve had no experience with anything at all like this. Some of them have never even held a screwdriver before.” The girls all volunteered for the trip, foregoing the chance to see a school play with their classmates. “I’m always encouraging them to take a little interest in things like this, as there is big support for them out there, and they can go a long way in science.”

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