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Woman Uses Lego Robot Kits To Help Encourage Future Engineers

she blinded me with science


Nicole Richard has a pretty cool job – she gets to play with Lego bricks all day even though she doesn’t actually work for Lego. Not just that, she gets to use the building toys to help educate children in robotics and engineering. Score! 

Richard is employed by National Instruments in Texas where she, “manages the development of software for two popular Lego robotics systems. One is Mindstorms NXT, a kit with a 32-bit wireless microcontroller that’s developed a devoted following among kids and robotics hobbyists since its introduction in 2006. The other is the Education WeDo Robotics Kit (WeDo for short), a construction set that introduces robotics and computing basics to children as young as 7.”

Richard has a degree in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder and seven years after graduating, while managing the Mindstorms software, she helped create the WeDo software. According to ieee Spectrum, it “lets users manipulate cartoonlike icons to create simple programs that can control motors and sensors.” It also gave her the chance to see how her work was being used in classrooms both inside the United States and out.

On a whim, she traveled to Cambodia to help train teachers to use several WeDo kits that had been donated to them. “It was overwhelmingly different there,” said Richard. “These kids were motivated to learn unlike any kids I’d ever seen before. They don’t take education for granted there at all.”

The response encouraged Richard to do more. She recently visited Jharkhand, India, conducting Lego workshops in a small orphanage. “Just as in Cambodia, she says, the kids took to the technology straight off. In just a few hours, even children who had never used a computer before were well on their way to building drumming robotic monkeys. Others were enthralled. ‘It was only after the [uninterruptible power supplies] lost all of their charge and the computers shut down that we could get any of them to leave,’ she says. ‘They’re hungry for this stuff.'”

Richards also checked back in with the school in Cambodia and was thrilled to learn they had started two, very popular robotics clubs. “The ultimate goal, she says, is for the children to develop critical thinking, problem solving, and technical skills and use them in turn to help address some of the challenges their communities face.”

“I chose to go into engineering because I knew I could make a good living at it, and I liked programming. It was only later that I became inspired by the opportunities it offers to really make an impact,” she said. “It took me a while to connect those dots for myself. Now I’m out trying to help kids make those connections for themselves more quickly.”

(via ieee Spectrum)

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Jill Pantozzi is a pop-culture journalist and host who writes about all things nerdy and beyond! She’s Editor in Chief of the geek girl culture site The Mary Sue (Abrams Media Network), and hosts her own blog “Has Boobs, Reads Comics” ( She co-hosts the Crazy Sexy Geeks podcast along with superhero historian Alan Kistler, contributed to a book of essays titled “Chicks Read Comics,” (Mad Norwegian Press) and had her first comic book story in the IDW anthology, “Womanthology.” In 2012, she was featured on National Geographic’s "Comic Store Heroes," a documentary on the lives of comic book fans and the following year she was one of many Batman fans profiled in the documentary, "Legends of the Knight."