Marita's farewell message
It's been an incredible journey leading Robogals over the past four and a half years.
When Robogals was founded in July 2008, I never could have imagined that just a few years later we would have taught robotics to literally thousands of schoolgirls, or that we'd have 16 chapters around the world, or that we'd have such a wide variety of interesting and diverse initiatives run by so many enthusiastic students!
Today, as Robogals comes of age, I'd like to share with all our amazing supporters (that's you!) some reflections and acknowledgements as I pass on the baton.
According to our internal "myRobogals" web portal, as of today, we have introduced the possibility of engineering to 7,506 girls through 332 robotics workshops since 2008, and even more through other programmes including the Robogals Rural & Regional Ambassadors programme, the Robogals Science Challenge, giving career talks and exhibiting at expos.
2012 in particular was an amazing year of achievements. Robogals' robotics workshops last year reached 3,835 girls, which is greater than the cumulative impact of our first 3.5 years (3,671 girls). Even more impressively, our Australian chapters increased their impact fivefold, from 563 girls taught in 2011 to 2,922 girls taught in 2012! Amazing! Our UK chapters are also progressing nicely (from 344 girls in 2011/2012 to 277 girls in 2012/2013 so far), and our new chapters in Tokyo and the USA also got off to an amazing start.
I had the immense privilege of being named the 2012 Young Australian of the Year in January. I certainly never in my wildest dreams thought that I'd ever be named Young Australian of the Year, and I'm still often surprised when I think about it and realise that I was. It has given me the opportunity to share my story and passion for engineering all over the country through an exhausting 130 speeches and many media interviews, which I hope have served to encourage many more school students to consider engineering as a career choice.
It has been a great adventure with many lessons learnt, priceless memories and great friendships.
Meet Nicole Brown
Today marks Nicole Brown's first day as the new CEO of Robogals Global. Nicole is a third-year civil engineering student at the University of Melbourne. She has been with Robogals since the middle of 2011, and has impressed me from the beginning with her maturity, enthusiasm and people skills. In the short time she's been with us, Nicole has organised a whopping 7 robotics trips to rural and regional areas all across Victoria, was briefly the Melbourne chapter president, managed the Robogals Science Challenge team and has more recently been involved in sponsorship negotiations too! I have no doubt that she is very well equipped for this role that she will undertake for the next two years, while studying part-time.
When I began Robogals, I didn't know what an incorporated association was, or how to have email addresses with our own domain name, or how to create processes and structures and keep everything organised. Fortunately, Mark Parncutt did. Without Mark's insights, organisational skills, software engineering skills and willingness to learn about growing and scaling an organisation beside me and bouncing around ideas with me every step of the way, Robogals would not be where it is today - it probably would have collapsed in a heap in its early years. He wrote the Robogals manual and the slides used to train committee members, spearheaded the myRobogals portal used for all our record-keeping and managed various members of the team. He can also claim credit for the name "Robogals", which he suggested based on my Internet username "robogal" :)
In particular, I would like to acknowledge Mark for his work in 2012. I was the main driver on all of Robogals Global's projects from 2008 - 2011. When I became Young Australian of the Year this year though, I foolishly had no idea that saying 'yes' to pretty much every opportunity that came my way would mean I had no time for anything else. Because of all my media, speaking, and my university final year project commitments, I had to shift most of my Robogals responsibilities to Mark who basically dedicated 24/7 to it. Mark is a highly intelligent, hard-working and committed individual and I am sure he will do very well in all his future endeavours.
"I am Sam"
To take Mark's place, we are welcoming Samantha Cheah as Robogals' new Chief Operations Officer. Sam is an engineering student at the Australian National University in Canberra, who will also have a slightly lesser study load as she takes on this important role for at least the next two years. A Robogals ANU committee member since 2011, she grabbed our attention after an impromptu presentation at our last SINE (national conference) in Brisbane, where she showed us all her detailed surveys, templates and excel spreadsheets filled with numbers and analytics of every single child Robogals ANU had taught, and measuring how they reacted to the workshops. She had also put together numerous versions of lesson plans tailored to each age group and lesson length, and moreover, a guide for the process she used to continually improve those lessons. Sam is also known for her wardrobe of various colours of t-shirts that all say "I am Sam", which have developed somewhat of a fan base in their own right, even having their own Facebook page.
With her analytical, thorough and creative mind, I am so thrilled she will take up this post to organise conferences, manage records, update Robogals manuals, and manage various programmes and team members.
A House of Bricks, Not a House of Cards
I've been thinking and slowly working towards this point for the past two years. As an important component towards making Robogals truly sustainable, we decided, like any substantial charity, to convene a Board of Directors as the governing body of the organisation and to assist the team. Initially convened as an "Advisory Board" in May 2011, our Board of Directors is chaired by Dr Bronwyn Evans, Senior Vice President at Cochlear Ltd and a notable woman in engineering, and all our board members have been invaluable at providing contacts and giving advice. Mark and I will both be board members for the foreseeable future, to continue helping Robogals but in a more hands-off way.
Additionally, Robogals would not be possible without the support of our partners. Those with whom we have long-standing relationships Beck Engineering, CSIRO, Leighton Holdings, GE Energy, Google, NICTA and SMSGlobal; and those whom we welcomed this year: Australian Constructors Association, Abi Group, Modern Teaching Aids, McConnell Dowell, Deloitte, WorleyParsons, DSTO, ConocoPhillips, IET and IBM. Thank you for enabling us to make a difference.
The Real Heroes
Volunteers are the organisation. Without them, there is no Robogals. I've never been paid to work for Robogals, and I've volunteered for various organisations since I was 10. So I know the rewards reaped from volunteering. It's a lot of fun, but it's also a lot of work. So I would like to acknowledge the hundreds of Robogals chapter committee members and volunteers we have around the globe who give up their time to make the world a better place. Well done to all of you - you make a difference!
The Road Ahead
The year ahead for Robogals will include more focus on researching and improving the effectiveness of Robogals programmes, and some new initiatives including a national Robogals Camp! But I'll leave it to Robogals' new leadership to tell you all about these things in future newsletters.
Robogals works because it is led by young people. What we lack in experience is more than amply made up for by energy, hard work and a whole lot of smart engineering students from top universities who naively believe that we can change the world for the better. So I am very optimistic about the future prospects for Robogals and the difference we're making to these important issues! Thank you for continuing to join us on this journey.
Founder of Robogals
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