The four members of the only all-girls robotics team at the Episcopal School of Dallas had more than competition on their minds when they entered the First Lego League Robotics Competition at Parish Episcopal School in Dallas.
Eighth-graders Mary and Katherine Cowser, Sumner Wooldridge, and Jiaying Fu are also passionate about bees.
The competition called for teams to build a robot and have it navigate an obstacle, and also to work on a project that addresses an aspect of humanity’s negative impact on the environment.
The girls, who call themselves the “Bee-Lievers,” called their robot “Do Not Phil” as a play on the words “Do Not Fail.”
The Bee-Lievers researched declining bee populations in Texas and set about raising awareness. They launched a “Save the Bees” petition drive, and even reached out to the White House for support.
“It was challenging implementing the course of action we wanted to take,” Jiaying said. “We sent out tweets to celebrities or letters asking them to promote it, but since they’re celebrities, none of them replied.”
Nevertheless, the petition garnered around 180 signatures. The girls plan to keep promoting their concerns.
“There are a lot of issues that need solving and sometimes you just have to research and focus on an issue you feel passionate about,” Katherine said. “If you feel passionate about a problem that needs solving then it’s really easy to do something about it.”
Initially, the team focused on domestic bees raised by beekeepers, but Sumner’s father (a beekeeper himself ) alerted the girls to the threats feral bees face.
“The feral, or lone, bees such as bumble bees or the bees that drill holes in the ground, are the ones that are really at stake,” Sumner explained. “Beekeepers can split the hive if part of it is dying, which keeps the population growing so they can breed. The lone bees don’t have anyone to watch over them and they’re the ones that are really affected.”
The girls learned many facts about bees, and the threats to their survival, during the project.
“I learned how important bees were,” Mary said. “They pollinate plants, and we need them to survive.”
As for their robot, the girls didn’t place in the competition, but they were recognized for good sportsmanship and professionalism.
“Working under stress was hard but we got it done,” Katherine said.