We Are Randox | Elena Lazarova, Robogals Mentor
Placement student Elena Lazarova who works in Randox Molecular Biology R&D Firfields site explains more about Robogals, a student-run global organisation that aims to inspire more girls to join STEM careers.
Founded in 2008 Robogals has chapters in several continents including Europe, Australia, Africa, and North America. The organization has reached over 50,000 girls aged from 5 to 18 years old and by 2020 aims to inspire over 100,000 girls by running free-of charge engineering and technology workshops in local communities.
“I was first introduced to Robogals when I saw one of their Manchester representatives at the Fresher’s fair at the University of Manchester. The LEGO robot that they had on the stall intrigued me with its simple design and ability to recognise distance thus saying ‘Hello!’ each time someone walked pass it.
As I had studied programming in middle school, I was keen to volunteer and find out more about these robots and the organisation. It turned out that the program behind the robot was mostly visual and not the coding I was used to therefore it was ideal as an introduction to programming. You’d think that a Biotechnology student would be out of place teaching robotics, but on the contrary it is incredibly fun and a good mental exercise. Also coming from a country where more than 30% of engineers are women (Bulgaria), I was surprised at the gender gap in the UK (less than 10% of engineers were women) and am keen to address the issue.
Since being taught how to use the robots I made sure to go to every session the Manchester chapter had, be it at local museums (each year we went to the Museum of Science and Industry’s Science Fair), libraries or schools. My enthusiasm and skill-set led to me being elected President of the Manchester chapter for a year and netted me over a 100 hours of volunteering.
Knowing I would have a placement year, and keen to continue being part of Robogals, I joined the regional Robogals EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) team as a Mentor. My current task is to assist and advice the chapters in the region on topics from volunteer involvement to sponsorship securement.
The last workshop I volunteered at was the Deer Shed Festival in Thirsk, Yorkshire during July 2016. It is a three day family-orientated festival which includes a Science Tent where Robogals Manchester has had a place for four years. It was my second time going to it and we taught over 150 girls and boys how to use our robots which include a LEGO guitar I had built the previous year.
Finishing the Lego guitar project is one of my favourite memories. Contrary to how long people think it took me to build it – it was only four hours. Since then it has become a great attraction and a good way of illustrating how one of the robot sensors works – the ultrasonic/distance sensor. I remember thinking at the festival how many people had brought their daughters to us to ask for advice about engineering pathways. There were also a good number of children who had attended our activity the previous year and wanted to partake again which was great to see as Robogals mission is to inspire, engage and empower young women into engineering and related fields.
Most of my activities so far as a Mentor have been online via email or voice chats. But last month I met various chapter executives in the EMEA region (mainly those in the UK) for our annual SINE (Seminars Inducting New Executives) conference. This year it was held in London and hosted by the London chapter at Imperial College London from 10th until 12th February. There I facilitated the activities and did presentations on skills to have and develop as part of Robogals.
These include learning how to program the robots using the LEGO Mindstorms NXT program and developing soft skills such as team work and presenting as well as teaching. During my time on the committee I was able to learn to liaise, organize workshops, event management, and leadership skills. Now as a Mentor I can share my experiences with other members of the organization whilst further developing what I have already learned in my time with Robogals (2.5 years so far).
Currently I am working on next year’s annual conference for the organisation. When I go back for my final year at the University of Manchester, I will definitely be going to workshops planned by the chapter there. Each time I’ve been to a workshop, I’ve always enjoyed how amazed the children are at the robots. Surprisingly, I’ve always thought I wouldn’t be good with children but I am enjoying being able to inspire them and to teach them more about the STEM world.
If you are interested in joining our global team make sure that you check out Randox careers website to see what new opportunities we have for you.