Monday, June 1, 2015

Girls and Tech and Grace

This is a long post, but read to the end for a video and a punchline.

I've become an edX course junky.  And I recently decided to improve my skills by taking another course on HTML5 and Javascript.  That course begins today. Here's an interesting statement from the online introduction:

Breaking news: you are one of the 60000 students who enrolled this course! This is both exciting and terrifying ;) We'd love to see more women enrolled though, as only 18% are female students. Please urge your wives, daughters, female friends and colleagues to sign up!

Currently there's a lot of interest in why so few women are going into tech.

My granddaughter, Grace, has just completed her first year at the University of Michigan in the art school.  She's a very talented artist who has won state and national awards for her political cartoons and especially her sculpture.  And, I'm sure she'll continue her development as an artist. However, recently she did an unusual project for her class.

Here's her report on

The Tiny Toilet Project

This project was assigned by my Methods of Inquiry Class. Where we were given problems to solve in creative ways. These problems were either design based, aesthetically based (just an art project), or assigned as a collaborative project (which could be design or art based). The toilet was my collab project.

At the beginning of the semester each student was assigned a partner. I worked with Sana Mirza. Once we had a partner, each group then came up with problems (any problems) that could be solved with a design or art project. We put the problems on sheets of paper and then put them on the wall for another group to pick. Sana and I ended up getting a sheet that had ten different problems that we could choose from and we picked the problem: Toilet seat gets left up by boys.

There was some trial and error in our plans but this is what we ended up doing in the end:
I learned the software for 3D modeling called Rhino and I modeled a small toilet and seat that could be 3D printed in our engineering building.

Once it was modeled I did a few test prints (which used a lot of the plastic we had- which is a PLA plastic) on the Cube - which is the small 3D printer available to students. The print took about three to four hours.

After the toilet was printed, my teacher provided me with a small servo motor and an Arduino board. I downloaded that program onto my computer and then programmed the servo motor to take commands from a button that would instruct it to go up or down when clicked.

I then attached the servo motor to the toilet seat, and used a soldering iron to wire the button to the Arduino board (not directly, but I used the iron to join the wires that would plug into the board- it was super hot and I didn't need help from my teacher: Proud moment).

So in the end this toilet seat button was created to deal with the problem of the seats being left up. This class is intended to provide us with the materials to make a product that we could actually patent- but really we just created something that solved the problem. My group consisted of just Sana and I, and I modeled the toilet, printed it, programmed the motor, and attached the motor and board. Sana made an advertisement for our product.

I basically did everything- but whatever we passed!

This project stirred Grace's interest in tech. She asked me if I thought she should go for a double major or minor in engineering. She feared she "wasn't smart enough". Apparently many women drop tech studies with that fear.

Grace now plans to discuss engineering classes with her advisor.  In the meantime, she's going to try a couple of computer classes from HarvardX and MITx through this summer. She's definitely smart enough and I think she'll realize that. At any rate, I expect she'll keep on combining her art talent and her tech talent.


Elizabeth Sims said...

Fabulous post, hon!

Marcia Burrows said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. The report Grace wrote up for me was very clear and she allowed me to post it word for word. I've sent her a little thank-you gift.