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Spelman College SpelBots Demonstrate Cutting-Edge Robotics at UCLA


Media Contact:
Audrey Arthur

ATLANTA (Jan. 28, 2013)
– Armed with NXT robots and a NAO humanoid robot, the Spelman College SpelBots team will demonstrate the dexterity of the robot pupils and recount their experiences programming the “virtual agents” to 400 African-American and Hispanic high school students in the Los Angeles Unified School District at UCLA’s “Exploring Computer Science” Day, Jan. 31, 2013. For many of these students, it will be their first time experiencing the excitement and viewing the complexity of a robotics demonstration.

The SpelBots team, made up of eight students, are the first all-female, all African-American undergraduate team to qualify and compete in the International RoboCup soccer competition.  The team made history when they tied for first place in the RoboCup Japan 2009 Standard Platform League Nao League Humanoid Soccer Championship, and were the first all-female, all African-American team to compete in the International RoboCup 2012 Mexico Standard Platform League Humanoid Robot Soccer Competition.

The team’s presentation in Los Angeles is one of six U.S. cities the SpelBots have visited in the past year-and-a-half – all total, sharing their expertise in robotics with more than 3,500 underrepresented students. The goals of the SpelBots’ secondary school outreach are to serve as role models and increase the number of underrepresented middle school and high school students who pursue computer science and robotics as fields of study in college.

There is much work to do in this area of recruitment. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2009, African Americans accounted for only 7.5 percent of earned STEM or science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees and certificates, down from 8.1 percent in 2001.

SpelBots member Daria Jordan, C’2015, understands the impact of a role model on a young student’s academic future. She first saw a robotics demonstration by the SpelBots while a sophomore at Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology in Lawrenceville, Ga. “The SpelBots influenced me to attend Spelman College because I knew I could continue my interests in robotics with people who looked like myself,” recalled Jordan, a computer science and electrical engineering major. “There are very few minority students in the STEM and robotics fields. Outreach allows the SpelBots to show there are minorities who are successful in these fields, and that in turn encourages other minority students to pursue degrees or become more interested in STEM and robotics.”

Jakita Thomas, Ph.D., Spelman assistant professor of computer and information science and one of two newly-appointed faculty advisers to the SpelBots, agrees. “From the year the SpelBots were founded in 2004 to present, they’ve been role models for African-American female students who have ambitions to study computer science and technology,” said Thomas. “A number of SpelBots members have gone on to successful careers in Silicon Valley and other high-tech regions. Who better to bring more underrepresented students into the STEM field than members of the SpelBots. They know first-hand what it takes to excel in the study of science, technology, engineering and math.

“We appreciate the invitation to come to UCLA by Jane Margolis, senior researcher at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. It presents an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the results of the SpelBots’ robotics research and also inspire a broad spectrum of students of color to earn degrees in STEM,” added Thomas.

Following the presentation at UCLA, the SpelBots plan to visit Washington Preparatory High School in Los Angeles to speak with students about robotics.

Learn more about the SpelBots.

About SpelBots
SpelBots, founded in 2004, is Spelman College’s all-female robotics team whose goal is to encourage students and young women of African descent to explore robotics and computer science. SpelBots made history in 2005 as the first all-female, all African-American, undergraduate team to qualify and compete in the International RoboCup four-legged robot soccer competition. In 2009, the team tied for first place in the RoboCup Japan 2009 Standard Platform League Nao League humanoid soccer championship and were the first all-female, all African-American team to compete in the International RoboCup 2012 Mexico Standard Platform League Humanoid Robot Soccer Competition. Spelman College is the only HBCU to compete at the RoboCup international level.

About Spelman College
Founded in 1881, Spelman College is a highly selective, liberal arts college widely recognized as the global leader in the education of women of African descent. Located in Atlanta, Ga., the college’s picturesque campus is home to 2,100 students. Outstanding alumnae include Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman; Sam’s Club CEO Rosalind Brewer; JPMorgan Chase Foundation President Kimberly Davis; former acting Surgeon General and Spelman’s first alumna President Audrey Forbes Manley; Harvard College Dean Evelyn Hammonds; author Pearl Cleage; and actress LaTanya Richardson Jackson. For more information, visit www.spelman.edu.

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