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Saint Mary’s robotics enthusiasts look to expand club, engage in passions

| Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Nuts, bolts and some interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is all that’s needed to join the Bellebots, Saint Mary’s College’s robotics club.

Bellebots was founded last September, and the group has new goals they’d like to achieve in its second year, club president and sophomore Michelle Lester said.

“Our goals this year are to actually compete,” Lester said. “We’ve been a club for a year at this point, … and we actually want to sign up for the VEX U competition and compete as a team.”

Additionally, the group hopes to continue its outreach into the South Bend community and inspire children interested not only in robotics but also STEM fields more generally. Lester said the club’s vice president, junior Noreen Maloney, will support and assist her in this endeavor.

“Last year, what we focused on was helping in the community with our community sponsored FIRST Tech Challenge team,” Maloney said. “We would like to continue helping support them with mentorship and guidance as young kids in the community who are interested in STEM. That’ll be another component we’ll be refining this year: bringing in more volunteers hopefully.”

Because of the variety of goals the club has, there is no prior robotics experience needed to join the group, Lester said. She said the club unites like-minded individuals and can spark friendships.

“There’s no robotics experience needed, and it’s a great way to meet people from across the street,” Lester said. “We have people that come over to Saint Mary’s from Notre Dame … to come to meetings and to be in the club, and they’re some of the most passionate people I’ve ever met about robotics.

She said she hopes membership encourages more women to engage in STEM-related activities.

“Also, if you’ve ever been interested in science, math, technology or engineering, it’s such a great way to get involved in that,” Lester said. “I think women are super underrepresented in that industry, so we need to get more women into STEM, and this is led by women and done by women.”

Maloney said Bellebots teaches valuable lessons that can be useful to anyone, so she encourages students of all disciplines to join.

“These are life skills that you learn in the club,” she said. “Not only do you have to have communication and teamwork, but also being able to know what certain tools are. You could end up being able to fix your own car and change your own brake pads in the future. If your fuse box goes out, you don’t have to necessarily call a professional.”

Maloney said everyone has something to gain from learning more about robotics.

“We’re teaching competent skills that are going to be applicable to all life skills, not just if you’re an engineering major,” she said. “It might be more applicable that way, but there’s still things that you’re going to learn that you’re going to use for the rest of your life if you join Bellebots.”

The prospect of learning new skills that can be applicable in the future is what drew freshman Mary Lou Schwitzer to think about joining the club, she said.

“I don’t think that I want to be doing robotics for my entire life,” she said. “I don’t know for sure what I’m going to be doing, but it is definitely my knowing about. Worse case scenario, I learn stuff that I can use later.”

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