Pursuing a career in the STEM fields can be a daunting task for females of any age. This is evidenced by the statistics; though numbers have been increasing slowly over the past few decades, women only comprise about a quarter of the STEM workforce. The ‘why’ behind this disparity consists of numerous reasons and factors, including ingrained modes of thinking and outdated stereotypes – which is perhaps why women have been joining the STEM workforce at a rather incremental pace. Thus, any programs, experiences, and opportunities that can help propel women into technical fields are invaluable, to say the least.
To help with this disparity, enter Boston’s MassRobotics Jumpstart Fellowship Program, which started with a cohort of eight young women in 2021. Aimed at high school juniors and seniors, the Jumpstart Program was designed to encourage the interest of young women in robotics, as well as expand their knowledge and expose them to various skills required within the field. In addition to learning about everything from design to coding, they are taught about more practical career aspects such as resume development and mentorship. Furthermore, the participants all have the opportunity to participate in summer internships at various companies in the Boston area.
GreenSight was fortunate enough to host two Jumpstarters, Helena De Almeida and Eloisa Salcedo, this past summer. Helena hails from Everett, MA, and is currently a junior at Prospect Hill Academy Charter School. During her time at GreenSight, she was able to further her interests in both robotics and software engineering. For a USDA program, Helena learned about and used python to implement solutions to computer vision problems, such as counting the percent of a certain image taken up by a plant vine. A NASA program required her to determine how to remove the sky from images using different color channels. And last but not least, Helena learned the basics of the ROS-Buzz robotic language, as well as how to install and run the Gazebo simulation environment (which is heavily used in the robotics field) for a DARPA program.
Eloisa, who lives in Cambridge and is a senior at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, was equally as engaged as her Jumpstart companion. She learned about python as well and also worked on the aforementioned NASA program, albeit on slightly varied tasks; she became versed in OpenCV and used it to find contours, carry out background subtraction in order to remove the background from images, and tweak parameters for optimum results pertaining to data collection for the program. In addition, she worked with Helena on the DARPA program, learning about Gazebo and ROS-Buzz, and even creating a flight path at our testing facility for a drone swarm. In fact, she enjoyed Gazebo so much that it may have sparked an interest in a future career related to simulation and modeling!
Learning about the myriad hardware and software involved in drones is a steep learning curve for any new employee, even those who are older and more experienced; however, Helena and Eloisa quickly caught on and became part of the GreenSight family. Though they were only with us for a short while, they both contributed to multiple GreenSight projects, broadening their intellectual horizons and technical skill sets in the process. According to one of GreenSight’s talented software engineers, Justin Au-Yeung, “Eloisa and Helena were excellent additions to the team! They were able to learn new skills at a fast pace and apply them to actual projects at GreenSight. Eloisa and Helena exceeded expectations and showed skill way above their age!” Both of these intelligent and bright young ladies continuously demonstrated, among other valuable and essential traits, curiosity and an eagerness to learn. The possibilities for their futures are endless!
Eloisa (L) and Helena (R) during their time at GreenSight. Hopefully we’ll see them again soon!
GreenSight looks forward to hosting not only more Jumpstart interns in the future, but hopefully more young women in general. Programs like Jumpstart are an excellent and helpful first step for young women interested in joining the STEM workforce. And as it’s often the beginning of the journey down your career path that is the most difficult and confusing, any assistance is priceless. Imagine the impact that could be made if Jumpstart – and similar programs – expanded to other areas of Massachusetts, and even to other states. Eight may not seem like a lot, but hopefully, it’s the first ripple of what will turn into a wave of young women entering the STEM workforce.