Johnston County's only all-girl robotics team heads to state championship

JOHNSTON COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- A team of middle-school students in Johnston County is out to prove that the male-dominated STEM field belongs just as much to the girls.

The Techno Tigresses are the only all-girl robotics team in the county and they're headed to the state championship of an international competition with their robot they built entirely out of Legos.

The missions that the autonomous robot was coded and built to complete represent real-world problems that today's scientists must solve.

For each successful mission, the team will earn points at competition.

"FIRST Lego League is the largest STEM-based competition in the world," said Shannon Mann, the team's coach.

Mann said out of the 79,000 FIRST Lego League teams around the globe, 500 are in North Carolina and only six in Johnston County, a growing biotech corridor.

"We see companies like Grifols, and Novo Nordisk, we see manufacturing giant like Caterpillar moving into this area," she said. "But unless teams like this are given opportunities to flourish not only in the community but through our schools, we might not have the manpower in Johnston County to continue the work of these businesses in the long-term."

The Techno Tigresses, also coached by Leigh Dement, an NCSU Chemistry major, consist of 11- to 13-year-old middle school students who wanted a space to grow their skills.

"I was the only girl in my middle-school robotics elective and I didn't really get to do much work," said Kaitlyn Nolte, Lead of Core Values. "And I feel like on this team, all of our personalities can be heard."

From coding to building, marketing and leading the team's core values, each member has a key role to play.

"The real skills that they take away from this competition -- public speaking, talking with adults, researching problems in their community, coming up with innovative solutions," Mann said.

Leading up to the competition, the team has had to present their robot to large groups of their peers, elected officials, and business leaders in the community.

"It's helping me get used to and become familiar with what I'm going to see a lot in the future when I get into the work field," said Ava Cummings, Lead Coder.

Leader Builder, Sloan Mann said her team is showing that the sport doesn't have to be male-dominated.

"I always thought that building and coding were really cool because you can build whatever you want and make it do whatever, and I thought that was really awesome," she said.

"We're showing younger girls that they can do this too," said Sydney Matisoff, Marketing Lead.

The Techno Tigresses' sponsor, TE Connectivity, has provided funding and mentorship.

The team will travel to Greensboro to compete against 59 other teams in the FIRST Lego League state championship on Jan. 18.
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