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San Diego teenager working to get more girls involved in STEM subjects

Posted at 2:23 PM, Nov 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-12 17:23:21-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- In almost 50 years from 1970 to 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau says out of all stem workers in this country, women went from 8 percent to 27 percent. That’s still low considering nearly half the workforce is now women. A Poway High School senior is doing something to try to change that.

“I've been doing robotics now since I was in 6th grade,” explains 17-year-old Madalyn Nguyen to a group of middle school students as she tries to spread her passion to them.

To understand why Madalyn is so passionate about mentoring, you have to understand why she's so ardent about STEM.

“Engineering is really great because it allows me to kind of indulge in my creative side, kind of let loose without any instruction. There's no need to color within the lines,” she says.

Madalyn started bursting out of those lines when she was 8 years old.

“Santa gave me a LEGO Mindstorms kit where you got to build LEGO robots and program them and honestly, I don't think you could take them out of my hands. I was all over it 24-7,” says Madalyn.

She says her first robot was a little one that moved to her sister’s room and “made a loud noise.”

Madalyn has come a long way since then. She went on to join the robotics team at her middle school, has won many awards including the prestigious FIRST Robotics Chairman's Award with her Poway High team, she started a Society of Women Engineers chapter at her school and has gone as far away as Paraguay to get kids involved in robotics.

However, it may be at Wilson Middle School in City Heights that Madalyn has made the biggest difference.

“There were maybe 8 to 10 boys, not that many, but I didn't let that discourage me because I knew there would be interest eventually. You know, because who doesn't love LEGOS?”

That was in 2018 when she went to help the school set up a robotics team. By the next year, the team had tripled in size and a third was now girls.

“I really just want to give back to students who may not have gotten the same opportunities that I had," she says.

For many of these kids, the goal is to do what Madalyn has done including creating and driving more complex robots like the one that helped her high school team get to the world championships. Madalyn likes helping all kids, but she knows girls may need a little nudge.

Her hope is someday, when she’s working in the world of STEM, she can continue to help students.

“It's really exciting and I hope in the future I can come back and maybe inspire other girls.”

Madalyn says having other interests helped her maintain a sense of balance. For example, she also found time to letter in varsity golf.

And she’s not finished winning awards. Madalyn is receiving the SWENext Global Innovator Award from the Society of Women Engineers. She's one of only six winners in the world.