Girl Scouts grow as one of Missouri's biggest sponsors of robotics teams

Using an iPad program, the Girl Scouts of the Royal Queens robotics team coded a Lego robot that can water plants. On Wednesday, they took it to Houston to compete in the annual world robotics championship.

“We have fun and we get to make memories with each other,” Zoi Williams, 8, said.

The Royal Queens, a robotics team at Fairview Elementary School in the Jennings School District, is one of 55 Girl Scouts robotics teams in eastern Missouri and the only one competing at the robotics championship this week.

Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri has embraced the growth in popularity of FIRST — or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — an international organization that promotes robotics as a competitive activity.

The council launched its robotics program in 2009 with five teams and has since grown to become the largest single youth organization sponsor of robotics teams in the region, according to the council.

The council expects to double its teams to 110 in two years, thanks to a recent $400,000 donation by Jim and Cathy Berges.

Royal Queens coach and parent Janice Watkins said she thought it was important to have all-girls robotics teams because women are under-represented in science, technology, engineering and math careers. About 72 percent of people employed in science and engineering careers in 2015 were men, while about 28 percent were women, according to the National Science Foundation.

“It is female empowerment,” Watkins said. “We’re just as intelligent as the men, and sometimes even more.”

The council covers the majority of costs for equipment and competition fees for its teams using funding from Monsanto and the national Girl Scouts organization, said Jessica Erfling, chief operating officer for Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri.

“We know that because of Girl Scouts, we have the opportunity to engage girls at a young age in STEM activities and spark an interest in STEM careers,” Erfling said.