THE BAMBIEBOTZ girls are building a 6-foot-tall recycling robot that will be able to maneuver a plastic garbage can, pile crates and dispose of swimming-pool noodles.
When they're done later this month, it will compete against other remote-controlled recycling robots in the 2015 FIRST - For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology - Robotics Challenge.
Win or lose, the BambieBotz team that created it at St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls in Northeast Philadelphia will gain something that their volunteer mentor, Jeanine Heck, is thrilled about - the idea that engineering can be a real-life career.
Heck, a Comcast product manager, said: "My industry - cable and communication technology - is very male dominated because it is missing a pipeline of talent from the youngest generation of women."
By the time the 19 BambieBotz girls meet four times a week, including Saturday, for six weeks and then enter their robot in competitions, Heck feels some will choose to go into engineering and technology.
"There is nothing that should prevent women from getting these jobs," she said.
Heck said that St. Hubert science teacher Wayne Flood, who coaches the BambieBotz, told the girls that he started the team in 2013 because he loves electrical engineering and couldn't wait to build a robot.
But after the 2013 robot was built, Flood said he realized how proud he was of the girls for creating it themselves and how proud he was of their personal sense of accomplishment.
"One of the girls cried when he told that story," Heck said. "This is like a life-changing experience for a lot of the girls."
Heck felt she opened some BambieBotz's eyes when she described working at Comcast on a voice-control application that allows people to talk into a TV remote and change the channel or find a show.
"I explained it was about taking somebody's voice and turning that into an action on the TV," Heck said. "I wanted them to realize you can learn these challenging technologies in school and apply them in your day job."
Heck demo-ed the voice-control app. "The girls were saying, 'You built that app? How did you build it?' " she said. "You could see the light bulbs going off. You could see them thinking, 'I love apps. I love TV. Wow, that work could be pretty awesome.' "
Heck feels her mentoring is part of the same St. Hubert's family spirit that hasn't changed since she graduated 20 years ago.
"It's really a sisterhood," she said. "It's a safe and warm environment for young girls to learn. There's a culture of acceptance, of girls who really support each other. People treat each other nicely."