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Voices Of Diversity - Making STEM Sparkle

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (CBS2/FOX28) -- Across the United States school districts are working to bridge the achievement gap between minority students and their peers. Right here in the Corridor, the Cedar Rapids School District is making an effort to motivate and inspire students of all races.

The district gave $10,000 to help fund the Sparkle Bots at Roosevelt Middle School this year. They're a robotics team of all African American middle school girls.

When the team formed, earlier this year, it was tough to find recruits.

"At first I didn't want to join at all. I was like, this is going to be a terrible thing, a waste of my time, Sparkle Bots team member, and eighth grader, Amanda Turner said.

That meant their coaches, Rockwell Collins engineers, Jessica Britton and Raquel Faulkner had to convince the girls that joining the team was a good idea.

We went out and practically pulled people into the program! Britton said. 

 Yet, once the girls joined, the program took hold.

"The whole point of this program is to make them confident, independent women, Britton said.

Eighth grader, Anike Elias proved, thats exactly what happened. She helps work on the software portion of the robot.

I love working with computers and, ok, like basically, Im like a whiz at the computer!" Elias said.

In addition to her new found confidence, Elias said the team gave her a place to belong.

It means like family to me."

Its a feeling Elias hasnt always had.

When I was in second grade, I always got bullied by mostly white people, she said.

Yet, through robotics, Elias has found support crossing racial groups

When we first entered this competition, people started congratulating us because we were the first all black girl team in the competition. Ever since Ive started this program, it got me more close to people even if theyre different colors. I mean, Ive never been bullied, ever again, Ellias said. 

The girls growth has a lot to do with the examples their coaches set.

With them knowing that we are systems engineers and mechanical engineers, it gives them a positive role model or positive image of African American women so that they have something to aspire to, Faulkner explained.

Together theyve succeeded. They won a first place motivation award at their first ever competition, the FIRST Technical Challenge
 Im very proud of them! Faulkner beamed.

And the girls are not finished yet. The Cedar Rapids School District has already agreed to give $4,000 to support the team for the next season. Thats something Coach Britton said is a good thing. 

 Even if we wanted to take a break from robotics, I dont think they would let us, she said. 

Being on the team has helped the girls dream big dreams. Turner said her participation makes her believe she can now be an engineer herself.

It makes me feel like I can do this, Turner said.

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