Girls' Robot-Building Club Starting in Gowanus

By Leslie Albrecht on October 10, 2012 8:31am 

GOWANUS — Wall-E and C-3PO, meet Ms. Fix-It.

Girls as young as 6 will learn to build robots at a new club launching this month at the Brooklyn Robot Foundry.

The five-session club will cost $250 and promises to help girls explore their handy side in a "low-stress, high-fun" environment, said Brooklyn Robot Foundry co-founders Jenny Young, 32, and Dave VanEsselstyn, 44.

The two friends started the Brooklyn Robot Foundry in 2011, offering robot-building classes at a Gowanus woodworking studio. In February, they opened their own storefront at 303 Third Ave. between First and Carroll streets, where they run classes and after-school programs and also sell robot-related toys.

Some robots are created with plastic kits, others are made with found objects like Altoids tins and cardboard boxes. All have moving mechanical parts and some are operated with battery packs.

In addition to learning the how-to of constructing robots, students also get an introduction to simple engineering terms like "Phillips head screwdriver," Young said.

Young and VanEsselstyn both grew up with dads who taught them to tinker in basement workshops and both went on to study engineering. Young has a degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University, and VanEsselstyn has a Ph.D. in educational technology. The two met when they were co-workers at an educational software company.

They were inspired to start the all-girls robot building club in part because there's still a stigma around women in engineering, Young said.

"You get a lot of comments like, 'You're too pretty to be an engineer,'" Young said. "You'd never tell a man 'You're too handsome to be an engineer.' I just want other girls to realize this is something they can do."

Girls will tackle a different robot building project at each two-hour session, which will run from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Sunday evenings. Pizza will be ordered for dinner and parents are invited to stay for the robot building.

Young and VanEsselstyn say they're hoping to create a friendly atmosphere where fellow tinkerers can get to know each other.

"It's going to be moms and dads with little girls who like to build things meeting each other and becoming friends," Young said.

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