Girls of Steel Meet "Rosie the Riveter"

alumni / robotics

The Girls of Steel, an all-female robotics team sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University's Field Robotics Center, has long used World War II's iconic "Rosie the Riveter" as an inspiration and a team logo. On January 27, the team met a real "Rosie."

Julia Parsons, 96, a Carnegie Mellon graduate, told the team about her exploits as a Navy codebreaker during WWII and had a look at the team's latest robot-building efforts.

"It was really great to be able to meet her," said Girls of Steel member Lauren Scheller-Wolf, 17. "I think everyone on the team was incredibly impressed by her and what she accomplished, and she's definitely a good role model for all of us."

Parsons earned a humanities degree in 1942 and worked briefly in an Army laboratory, fixing gauges used in steel mills to produce shells and other explosives. She soon joined the Navy and, because she had studied German, was sent to Washington, D.C., to join a codebreaking team. For the remainder of the war, she helped decipher German U-boat messages sent via the infamous Enigma encryption machine. After the war, she taught English at North Allegheny High School in Wexford, Pa.

"Her stories were incredibly inspiring, and I loved being able to talk to her about our team and what we do," said Anna Nesbitt, 14, of Winchester Thurston School. "The way that she talked about her experiences as a codebreaker gave me insight into what Girls of Steel represents, and I couldn't be happier to be a part of the team."

The team of about 50 girls from Pittsburgh-area middle schools, high schools and home schools competes in the FIRST Robotics Competition. This year's competition, "FIRST Power Up," requires teams to build autonomous and teleoperated robots that will deliver "power cubes," which are used to control switches or scales to earn points.

"Meeting Julia Parsons was like traveling back in time," said Theresa Richards, outreach program manager for Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute. "She is an excellent inspiring role model for the Girls of Steel, as a woman who accepted challenges and tried new things, going beyond the usual expectations of working as secretaries, nurses, costume designers and homemakers."