Hoosier Girlz Girl Scout Troop wins at First LEGO Indiana State Championship

By Eliza Williams

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Hoosier Girlz, a STEM-focused Girl Scout troop in Bloomington, Indiana, recently won the 1st Place Robot Mechanical Design award at the Indiana FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Championship Tournament on Dec. 13, 2014.

Rachel Wheeler, Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing alumna and Electronic Resources CONSER/NACO Cataloger at the IU Bloomington Libraries, was a Girl Scout leader of troop 69132 at University Elementary School. Inspired by her daughter's experience participating in a Girl Scout-sponsored FLL team, Rachel introduced the idea to her troop. In 2012 Girl Scouts offered to fund the rookie FLL season and Wheeler's troop officially became the Hoosier Girlz.

"We eventually morphed from a traditional Girl Scout troop to a STEM-lovin' troop who uses words like 'odometry' and 'program sequencer' quite often," said Rachel.

Rachel was the project coach and helped direct the girls to good research sources throughout the season. Her husband, Brian Wheeler, IU School of Informatics and Computing Alumnus and Senior Systems Engineer at the IU Bloomington Libraries, coached the robotics portion of the team and handled administration. The robotics portion was a mix of strategy, programming and mechanical engineering.

“FLL requires presentations, programming, robot strategy and research, all while maintaining good core values,” said Rachel. “We make sure that all of the girls have a hand in everything they do, giving them an opportunity to try it all and have a true sense of ownership in the team and project.”

The FLL Championship Tournament consisted of three presentations: Project, Core Values and Robot Design. The Robot Design judging consisted of the team talking about features of their robot and demonstrating one of the robot missions. Only teams in the top 40 percent of robot scores were eligible for an award at the end of the day.  After the rounds were completed, teams celebrated with a dance party and pizza while judges deliberated.

Over the last three years the girls have won a state-level award in each of the major award categories, including the most recent competition’s “1st Place Robot Mechanical Design,” a category that has stereotypically been male-dominated.

“It has been amazing to watch how much the Hoosier Girlz have grown over the last three seasons,” said Brian. “The first year they competed at the State Championship many teams saw an all-girl team that did a pretty good job. When the Girlz arrived at the regional competition this year, they were simply pointed out as ‘the team to beat’ – with no gender qualification.”