• Every scientist works toward that “Eureka!” moment, but Morgan Garbett ‘18 gets her thrills from seeing the teens she mentors make their own breakthroughs. Garbett spoke about her experiences working with the Girls Inc. robotics program last month in front of an audience at the Boeing Defense Space & Security (BDS) Leadership Conference in her native San Antonio, Texas.
Garbett says she was asked to speak at BDS to show the leaders gathered there how much community and corporate support can do to encourage girls to pursue STEM programs. Boeing recently gave a grant for Girls Inc. San Antonio to start the Eureka!™ robotics program there. Girls Inc. Eureka!® is a five-year cohort program for teen girls that focuses on STEM, leadership, health and fitness, college-readiness, and career-readiness.
“Mentoring really is such a moving experience,” says Garbett. “When I was in 4th grade someone inspired me to be an engineer, and I wouldn’t be here without it. I want to spread the message that we can all do that for someone else.”
“When I was in 4th grade someone inspired me to be an engineer, and I wouldn’t be here without it.” – Morgan Garbett ’18
In her speech, Garbett described how she joined the FIRST robotics team in high school, then started a team in middle school that went from “dead last” to second out of 128 teams within a year. In high school, she mentored and coached more than 40 robotics teams in South Texas, as well as leading eight workshops and summer camps. Last year as a freshman at WPI, she founded the OpSMART after-school robotics workshop series, in addition to joining the WPI Engineering Ambassadors network and mentoring the Mass Academy of Math and Science robotics team.
At WPI, Garbett studies robotics engineering and computer science. This summer, she’ll complete an internship in the Aerospace Systems division of United Technologies Corp.
“I can truly say that I was able to accomplish all this thanks to Girls Inc. Not only did Girls Inc. spark a passion for mentoring in me that changed my life, but it also provided me with the confidence and self-assurance to believe that I could use my passions to make a difference in my community,” she said in her speech.
Garbett says a big hurdle in mentoring kids in robotics and engineering is just getting them past thinking it’s too hard or they’re not smart enough.
“A lot of engineering is logical. You go step by step. As a mentor, my job is to walk them through the problem,” she says. “I have to resist just doing it for them and instead ask leading questions to facilitate their thought process. To ask ‘What went wrong?’ when they get stuck.”
She likens her approach to eating an elephant. “You have to eat the elephant one bite at a time or you’ll get overwhelmed by it.”
When mentoring girls, Garbett says she serves as a role model. “There’s a stigma that girls can’t do engineering. But by someone like me doing robotics demonstrations, they see that they can do it, too,” she says.
Certainly, not every girl who participates in one of these programs decides to continue in robotics or other STEM pursuits, says Garbett. “There’s a range. Some enjoy the program, but it’s not something they’re going to do for the rest of their lives,” she says.
But others catch the engineering bug just like Garbett did. One of the highlights of her mentoring career came last summer during the last week of a robotics camp. One girl had signed up for several sessions over the summer. Because each session repeated material, Garbett stepped up the curriculum for this participant so she would have something new to learn. At the end, the girl’s mother told Garbett her daughter came home and said, “I want to be an engineer, just like Miss Morgan.”
At the BDS conference, the engineers and business leaders attending Garbett’s talk “really seemed to get it,” she says. Afterward, Chris Chadwick, former head of Boeing’s defense, space, and security division, who retired March 1, said that as the father of three daughters he appreciated all Garbett had to say.
“He made me promise him two things,” says Garbett. “To never stop doing what I’m doing, and to send him my resume.”
To learn more about Girls Inc. and the Eureka programs, visit http://www.girlsincworcester.org/programs-services/eureka
– BY CATE PRATO