Robogals was founded as a student club at the University of Melbourne in July 2008, arising from some conversations between Robogals founder Marita Cheng and the then Head of Electrical Engineering, A/Prof. Jamie Evans. The idea was to run a LEGO robotics competition for girls schools around Melbourne to increase interest in engineering, and the teams would be supported with training in the lead-up to the competition.
A founding team was formed, consisting of engineering and science students Marita Cheng, Mark Parncutt, Kelly Chiu, Ann Chee Lim and Vi Vu. In that first semester, Robogals taught LEGO robotics at five schools, of which three entered the competition. As early as September 2008, the university filmed our activities for a video podcast.
Much was learnt from that initial experience. In late 2008, the size of the executive committee was reduced from 13 people down to the six positions that we still use today in all Robogals chapters worldwide. It was also decided at this time to leverage existing competitions like FIRST LEGO League and RoboCup Junior rather than run our own, instead focussing Robogals' efforts on delivering robotics workshops in schools, running events that engage girls in engineering, and encouraging the girls schools to enter existing robotics competitions, with mentoring from Robogals volunteers.
Kelly Chiu became president of Robogals in Melbourne while founder Marita Cheng was on exchange to Imperial College London in the first semester of 2009. With the help of local engineering students Aakanksha Chhikara and Sonya Chan, Robogals London was formed – our second chapter!
In June that year, Robogals began thinking about further expansion. The idea was fairly simple: invite six girls from each of four Australian universities to Melbourne for three days and teach them how to set up a Robogals chapter. They would then return to their home city and become the inaugural executive committee of the new chapter. Through much negotiation via email (Marita was still in London), the University of New South Wales, University of Adelaide, University of Queensland and the University of Western Australia were all brought on board. An email was sent asking female engineering students from those universities to apply through an online form, which was followed by a phone interview. The "Robogals Bootcamp", as it was called, was held in at the University of Melbourne from 29 September to 1 October, and spawned those four new chapters, bringing us to a total of six!
Coinciding with the Bootcamp was our first major foray into the mainstream media with our Guinness World Record attempt for the World's Largest Robot Dance. Despite the record not being officially accepted due to a technicality, the record-breaking attempt got us onto primetime national television (The 7pm Project, Channel 10, 29 Sep 2009) and other outlets including ABC Radio 774 (which did a live cross to the dance scene), 3AW, Nova 100, The Age, the Herald Sun and many others.
Many of the new chapters began recruiting university students and contacting schools in the remaining weeks of second semester 2009, gearing up for a great year in 2010!
The academic year began with all five of our Australian chapters setting up a stall during their university's Orientation Week to spread the word about Robogals and recruit new members. Robogals UNSW (in Sydney) became the first of our new chapters to get out there and teach in schools. Others followed soon behind!
In April, Robogals ran another Bootcamp, but this time in the UK. Engineering students from four British and one Irish university came to Imperial College London 24-25 April to be trained in how to set up their own Robogals chapter back home!
Also that month, Robogals WA participated in the SciTech Science Awareness Festival in Kalgoorlie.
In July, Robogals UNSW ran its first holiday program, where parents could sign up their daughters directly. This inspired interest among other chapters in running their own holiday program the following year.
In August, Robogals Melbourne ran the Robogals Science and Engineering Expo in partnership with National Science Week – our first big 'science fair'-type event.
In September, the Bootcamp, now renamed SINE (Seminars Inducting New Executives) was held at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. In addition to being the national conference for our five existing Australian chapters, it also saw the introduction of our first New Zealand chapter at the University of Otago.
This month also marked the beginning of a new academic year in the UK, which saw many of our British chapters start to take off! Manchester became the first of those new chapters conduct a school visit, with London and Edinburgh having also done so by the end of the year.
In October, Robogals founder Marita Cheng was named by national radio station Triple J as one of their "25 Under 25 and Smashin' it" following their search all across Australia for 25 amazing young people under the age of 25!
2010 finished with a total of 1,500 girls impacted by Robogals worldwide through robotics workshops in schools, holding events, and mentoring in robotics competitions.
February saw the UK & Europe SINE (Seminars Inducting New Executives, or national conference) held successfully at the University of Manchester. In addition to attendance from our existing chapters in the region, engineering students attended from Sheffield, Leeds and a (short-lived) chapter in Delft, Netherlands. Robogals now had a total of 15 chapters in five countries.
In March, thanks to the generosity of the Cochlear Foundation, we launched the Robogals Rural and Regional Ambassadors programme, where 20 female engineering students from regional areas of Australia attended a training weekend in Melbourne, and then returned to their home regions to give presentations in local schools about studying engineering.
In May 2011, Robogals Global established an Advisory Board to advise the executive team, and pave the way to establish a Board of Directors in the near future as part of Robogals' succession plan.
2011 was also the inaugural year of the Robogals Science Challenge. The Robogals Science Challenge is a national competition which encourages girls between the ages of 5 and 18 to conduct a science experiment with a parent or mentor; film the experiment and submit it online. This program was spearheaded by one of Robogals' most dedicated volunteers: Mun-Xin Lee. The competition resulted in the 10 finalists and their parents, from around Australia, being flown to Melbourne for a science-filled weekend of activities and a positive response from the families involved.
On the eve of Australia Day 2012, Robogals founder Marita Cheng was named Young Australian of the Year for her work with Robogals. Throughout the year, the publicity from this award allowed Robogals in Australia to grow substantially, increasing the number of girls reached in Australia five-fold compared to 2011!
In February 2012, Robogals expanded to the US by holding our first SINE (Seminars Inducting New Executive-committees) at Caltech. Our inaugural three chapters in the US were Caltech, Columbia University and the University of Arizona.
The Rural & Regional Ambassadors programme was held again, this time with the training weekend in Sydney. A big highlight was an engineering site visit literally underneath the Sydney Opera House, where Robogals sponsor Leighton Holdings was constructing an underground loading ramp.
The Robogals Science Challenge also took place again in 2012, attracting more entries than the previous year, from all around the country.
Much of the latter half of the year was spent preparing for a transition as Robogals founders Marita Cheng and Mark Parncutt prepared to leave their day-to-day roles in Robogals by the end of the year. By August, Nicole Brown had been chosen as Marita's successor.
Robogals set up a new chapter at the University of Tasmania in September.
In October, Marita and Mark travelled to Parliament House, Canberra to meet with the Hon. Peter Garrett MP, Minister for School Education. They pressed the importance of including engineering in the new national curriculum, and that school students are made aware of the career opportunities in engineering.
Finally, Marita spoke to students at several universities around China about her personal story, on a 10-day tour in December organised by the Australian Embassy in Beijing. The tour was part of the Embassy's public diplomacy efforts in commemoration of the 40th Anniversary of Australia-China Diplomatic Relations.
The start of a new year and a start of a new era for Robogals, with Founder & Executive Director Marita Cheng stepping down from her position after four and a half years in the position. Robogals Operations Director, Mark Parncutt (who was a part of Robogals since its inception) also left at the same time.
This paved the way for Nicole Brown to step into the role of Chief Executive Officer and Samantha Cheah to become the new Chief Operations Officer. Both Nicole and Sam were humbled to be selected for their respective positions, excited about their chance to leave their mark on Robogals and on the future of female engineers around the world.
Upon this transition, several key goals were set out for the next executive team and began to be implemented. The main change being to the structure of Robogals; and the introduction of a three-tier structure as opposed to the previous two-tier system. This new structure will create a small Global Team, a Regional Team in each of our three regions: Asia Pacific, North America and the United Kingdom & Europe.
The Robogals Science Challenge is currently underway with a brand-new format being introduced. This new format has been implemented by our Science Challenge Team: Caitie McClellend, Suhashi Wickramsinghe and Roza Jiang. The format consists of three months of Minor Challenges, introducing girls to a total of 12 engineering and science fields; concluding with the Major Challenge as the program has previously had.
The Robogals Rural and Regional Ambassadors Programme was again successfully run in Sydney in April, with 19 female engineering students from around Australia coming together to learn about Robogals and the importance of promoting engineering to the next generation of girls. A follow up weekend for participants to continue the personal development provided on the first weekend is also in the planning process for December this year.
A new initiative is about to be started in 2013. This program will be a continuation of the Robogals Science Challenge for women ages 14+. It will require the completion of an online course around computer science and engineering and a self-guided project. More information and a name for the program will be released soon.
Finally, expansion is continuing to blossom with successful chapters starting in Southampton (England), Toowoomba (Australia) and Toronto (Canada). There are also many other universities currently in discussions to start a Robogals chapter and expand our network. Stay tuned for more updates!