Thursday, April 18, 2024

Celebrating Local Young Women in STEM on International Women’s Day

Members of the Coronado Middle School and Coronado High School Robotics teams with their coach Roberta Lenert.

On this International Women’s Day (celebrated on March 8), the young women of the Coronado Middle and High School Robotics teams should be celebrated for their drive and determination to break barriers and better themselves in all areas of STEM. Under the leadership and mentorship of Robotics Coach and founder of the program, Roberta Lenert, these young women are building the foundation to set themselves up for success as they pursue their dreams of being accepted to top-notch engineering programs in college. From goals of attending the Naval Academy and MIT to becoming NASA engineers, these young women know that the sky is the limit and they are on the path to achieving their dreams.

Nado Bots team coders Kailani Lenert and Mila Waydo celebrating after a successful autonomous run using their new code.

Coach Lenert has built up a team of coaches and mentors that not only teach these young students robotics principles, but also provide guidance on what working in these fields is like. With coaches that graduated MIT and the Naval Academy to NASA Engineer Pete Waydo, the access these young women have to the world of STEM is extremely impressive.

“It has been my pleasure to empower these amazing young women and watch them find their passion, potential and purpose in Robotics,” said Lenert, “Witnessing their skill development and leadership skills flourish fills me with great pride. They have the “I can do anything” mindset. These women in STEM are breaking barriers every single day, and they are going to change the world!”

Along with coaches and mentors, the robotics members themselves search for opportunities with Kailani Lenert and Mila Waydo leading the way as members of BE WISE (Better Education for Women in Science and Engineering). On March 6 both Ashli Fabrey (8th grade) and Mila Baller (7th grade) were accepted as the newest members of BE WISE from CUSD. “It is such exciting news and I am so proud of them and all the girls in our program,” said Coach Lenert. “We have 100% acceptance rate so far for our CUSD girls that have applied to BE WISE and this program provides so many opportunities for the girls to do hands-on STEM at UCSD, USD and San Diego State University.”

Madeline Ruddick (CMS), Caroline Timmons (CHS ), Captain Kailani Lenert (CHS), Alli Fabrey (CHS), Ashli Fabrey (CMS).
Coronado Robotics teams bonded through Marine Biology at Mission Bay. The teams studied sea stars, sea urchins, 2-spot octopus, garibaldi, nudibranchs, lobsters & key hole limpets with Marine Biologists and the Navy.

When I asked Ashli what she likes about Robotics she said, “It shows us how we can use STEM in real life, it helps us process math for engineering and science for coding and helps us process what we learn in the regular school day.” Mila Baller added on, “I like working together with the team on the robot games, most definitely the coding and engineering.”

Kailani Lenert and Caroline Timmons from CHS Nado Bots connecting with another STEM girl Olivia Solorzano from Team All Systems Go.

Kailani Lenert has been a part of the robotics program at CUSD since it began during her seventh grade year. She is a mentor and coach for the CMS teams as well as captain of the CHS Robotics team. I asked her to describe the program and she said “I have seen robotics grow over the last six years, starting with only three teams and very few women in the middle school. I was one of only a few girls when it started and now women make up more than half of the teams in both middle school and high school.” She also said, “I really like the way the program has developed over the last few years. While I have been in high school and a CMS mentor I’ve had the opportunity to be part of the launch of the CMS all girls team ‘Robo Tritons.’ Seeing them flourish and the teamwork and camaraderie created for the girls on the team is fantastic. I am glad I am able to foster their ambition and watch them thrive. “One of my goals is to come back and continue coach the high school and middle school robotics teams and share programs, opportunities and pathways for women to advance in STEM.”

Valentina Gonzalez from CHS Nado Bots building their FTC Competition Field at Palm Academy.

Valentina Gonzalez, a senior at CHS and a first year robotics member interested in studying aerospace engineering, said, “I feel like having this opportunity as a senior is helping me open my mind to what it will be like to experience these [STEM] programs in college. It also helped build up my college applications.”

CMS Robo Tritons and CHS Coach Madison Brown.  Many of our CHS robotics team give back to our youth by coaching and interning at Coronado Middle School Robotics.

Grace Dabbieri is an exceptional young woman who, despite being blind, is an integral member of the robotics team. “Robotics is going to help me gain a better understanding the hardware and software components, but it has also really helped me learn how to be a part of a team and work with others to solve challenges. Eventually I want to get my masters degree in computer science and be a coder for a tech company.” Grace hopes to help bring awareness to the robotics community on ways to support and include people with disabilities. She said her experience at CUSD has been wonderful and they are finding ways to overcome challenges like using brail keyboards for coding.

Madison Brown is a freshman interested in working for NASA as an Aerospace Engineer and shared, “It feels good to have mentors that have already gone through the journey and share with me how to follow their footsteps.”

Caroline Timmons and Madison Brown scouting alliances at a FTC League Tournament.

Cerriden Lynch-Daneschvar is from a military family and moved to Coronado for her 8th grade year. She shared that she was involved in robotics in her last school in Hawaii but this is the first time she is competing. Cerriden said, “I love robotics, I am definitely a STEM kid and glad they have robotics at CMS. I am moving again next year to the Boston area and hoping to get into a MIT Feeder high school.” Lenert shared that the CUSD robotics program follows their members if they transfer and ensures they continue to mentor and support them through the transition. Lenert said “We are so grateful for our district’s support of robotics. As we have students transfer to other states and other districts we are finding challenges with connecting them with Robotics team. We are so incredibly lucky at Coronado Unified to have such a competitive program with so much support. Our teams will continue to mentor team members from afar as best we can so they can continue their journey to success in STEM.”

The innovation project incorporates art and presentation, in this photo the young women learn skills from Cathy Surgeon Debier, a local Coronado artist with focus on ocean sustainability.

When asked her thoughts on Robotics, 6th grader Callie Tisdale said, “I love it because I’ve learned such a wide range of skills, like coding which is almost like learning another language. My favorite part of robotics is the innovation project, which is were we make presentations and I think presenting is one of the most valuable skillsets.”

Julia Lee is a 6th grader who is interested in going to the Naval Academy Robotics. She said, “Robotics has helped me build connections and make new friends. I have learned new things like coding and building things. Julia’s teammate, Madeline Reddick, said, “I really enjoy Robotics, it is a great place to meet friends and enjoy being a teammate, we work on coding and innovation projects and we learn so many new skills. I have gained confidence in speaking up and it has really helped me.”

Madeline Ruddick from CMS Robo Tritons engineering a launching mechanism to be used in their upcoming Spring Showdown competition.

The group agreed that the number of women in STEM is growing and it is more common for women to be in engineering jobs. They talked about how they are learning about women in history who were the first to break into traditional male dominated roles. They hope to continue to make STEM appealing for younger girls and share their experiences with the elementary schools and their peers. They want to ensure more girls are exposed to and interested in STEM. They do want to break into the upper levels such as VP, CEO and board member roles for engineering firms, tech and defense companies.

CMS Team Robo Tritons at a competition.

CHS Robotics member and founder of the Society of Women Engineers Club at CHS, Mila Waydo said, “In the Coronado School District, I think there are definitely growing opportunities for women in STEM. I think the students that are interested in STEM are creating opportunities and supporting other women in STEM with clubs and programs.”

Lenert closed our interview saying, “We are extremely thankful for Coronado Schools Foundation for their support of all Coronado Robotics Programs. Along with CSF we have been fortunate to have local sponsors: Dr. Mullins and the City of Coronado, and larger national sponsors like Amazon and Qualcomm. We also received a grant from DODEA and have a very close relationship with Naval Base Coronado. I couldn’t do this without the support of our volunteers and mentors from the local community.”


Jeannie Groeneveld
Jeannie Groeneveld
Jeannie is a retired Naval Aviator and Public Affairs Officer whose post-Navy career includes freelance writing, PR Consulting and a two year stint as the San Diego Padres Military Affairs Advisor. Having been stationed in various parts of the country including Washington D.C., Florida and Hawaii, Jeannie appreciates how amazing the Coronado community is and loves the experience her children have had growing up here. Jeannie earned her BS in Marine Biology from Auburn University, her MS in Global Leadership from the University of San Diego and her MA in Communication and Media Relations at San Diego State University. A life-long learner and avid traveler Jeannie enjoys writing travel pieces, Navy stories and anything else that will broaden her perspective. When she is not working you will find her watching her boys play sports, walking Odin at dog beach, hiking, playing beach volleyball or spending time with the family.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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