SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

General Motors Engineer Guides Award-Winning Girls’ Robotic Team


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General Motors engineers are mentoring the Mercy Midnight Storm, an all-girls team learning valuable STEM skills by creating remote-controlled robots for competition.

Robotics is a big deal in Michigan, General Motors’ home base since 1908. Our state currently has 508 youth robotics teams, more than any other state and nearly 200 more than second-place California.

One Michigan team is the Mercy Midnight Storm, an all-girls FIRST Robotics group and the 2016 Rookie of the Year team. With guidance from 11 engineering mentors (eight from GM) including GM Program Engineering Manager Keysha Camps, the teens are prepping for STEM careers by brainstorming, coding and manufacturing remote-controlled robots for FIRST Robotics competition.



 


The girls chose the name themselves. Mercy is a nod to their sponsor, the Mercy Education Project, a nonprofit that supports low-income girls and women and helps them succeed in education. “They chose Storm because of the female superhero,” Camps said. “They wanted the community to see them as superheroes motivating young girls to pursue STEM. Midnight was just an excuse to wear black.”

Camps and her husband, GM chassis engineer Ricardo Mercado-Perez, began mentoring students a few years ago and were asked to consider starting their own team. “I said yes immediately,” Camps said. “I said, ‘I don’t need to think about it – this is awesome.’”

Our commitment to robotics is one of several ways General Motors is encouraging students — especially in multicultural communities with fewer STEM exploration opportunities — to consider STEM careers. For us to succeed in electrified and self-driving vehicles, cybersecurity and connectivity, we’ve got to nurture talented youth, including young women and girls who are underrepresented in STEM professions.

The groups have just six weeks to go from sketch to battle-ready, so the pressure — and the fun — is intense. The girls meet at least 10 hours a week during build season at the Detroit Hispanic Development Corp, from January through May. They psych up for competition by wearing silver capes, lightning bolt logos and green and silver hair ribbons.

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In their first year of competition they earned the prestigious Rookie All-Star award at the 2016 FIRST Robotics competition in Michigan, made the district event finals and went to Worlds in St. Louis. “It was the first time many of the girls had stepped out of Detroit and it was truly life-changing for them,” Camps said.
This year, Mercy Midnight Storm also spent time with our Chairman and CEO Mary Barra.

“She was so nice and talked to them about college essays and how what they’re doing is so impactful for their future,” Camps said. “Seeing a female CEO was really eye-opening for them.”

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On the off-season, the team creates sustainability projects throughout the city, including a water collection system for an urban garden. The girls also mentor and coach an elementary robotics team and hope to start a middle school team. Two former team members are pursuing STEM in college. Last year’s captain, Ashley Jones, is at the University of Michigan studying Biology, Health, and Society with a minor in the Environment on a full scholarship, and Nada Alhamdi is majoring in software engineering at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

“These girls are going to have so much experience and be prepared to lead,” Camps said. “We have women leading in important areas in GM but I think there’s opportunity for more. They’re getting ready to be those women.”

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