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Mayfield Robotics: Bridging opportunity gaps and embracing mystery with different lenses

Caroline Squire ’23 and Annie Tighe ’19 never attended Mayfield at the same time, but their paths crossed at robotics competitions when Caroline was a student at Clifton Middle School in Monrovia. Her school team, the “Hippie Bots,” competed in the same league as the “JavaBots,” Mayfield’s Girl Scouts-sponsored team. It was at one of those robotics competitions that Caroline and her family saw Mayfield in a completely new light—as a high school that offered so much more than the strong STEM curriculum they already knew they wanted.
Caroline’s mother met Annie Tighe, who was still a Mayfield student at the time, at a competition. “My mom...told Annie that I was applying to Mayfield,” Caroline explained. “Annie was so excited and told my mom, ‘I will pray for her!’ We thought that was so thoughtful.” In the midst of an environment entirely focused on technology, Annie’s faith-infused comment stuck out to everyone. Caroline’s family are active members of the Holy Child parish in Arcadia, and her parents were heartened to consider Mayfield as a unique place for their daughter, where scientific rigor and religious contemplation could exist in the same sphere effortlessly.

Mrs. Melissa Tighe, Mayfield’s Mathematics Department Chair, remarked on that same synergy as well. As Mrs. Tighe sees it, religious and scientific inquiry never need to be at odds with each other for students at Mayfield, as both disciplines equip students with tools that help them engage with their own sense of curiosity and purpose in an ever-changing world. (She also pointed out that Theology and Robotics actually shared the same classroom when the Girl Scouts team first found a home at Mayfield!)

The way people often draw clear distinctions between science and faith is not something Mrs. Tighe is overly concerned about. “I think we can see ourselves as similar as we're both exploring mystery…and I think there's space for experiencing mystery through both of our lenses,” she said. “As stewards of our Catholic faith, we can use technology to amplify some of our goals and values.” 

It was Mrs. Tighe who made the initial connection between Mayfield and the Girl Scouts robotics program. Her daughter, Annie, had expressed an interest in joining the Girls Scouts team, which was then operating out of a temporary “portable”  classroom at Pasadena High School. With this space slated by the school for other development, the club was soon to be without a lab. It occurred to Mrs. Tighe, who is also Mayfield’s Director of Innovation & Community Partnerships, that our school could potentially provide a permanent home for this impressive team. Plus, a collaboration between these institutions could tick the boxes for both innovation and community partnerships.

Mayfield has always prided itself on a “whole child” approach, encouraging its students to discover and explore their abilities in the arts, sports, sciences, and beyond. And although the school had long discussed founding its own robotics program, it had been cost-prohibitive in many respects—equipment, software, expert instructors, time. Plus, with students pursuing so many diverse interests, it wasn’t clear that there would be enough critical mass to support a school-sponsored robotics lab. 

This was why exploring alliances was such an attractive idea. The Girl Scouts team, mentored by Julie Townsend (the Engineering Operations Team Chief and Deputy, Robotic Arm Systems Engineer at JPL), had already purchased 3D printers, a laser cutter, computers, and software licenses—not to mention bringing the highest caliber of mentors and leaders, most of whom are affiliated with either JPL or CalTech. And that was hardly the extent of their investment—they fully subsidized every club member and chaperone to participate in competitions, even out of state. Mrs. Tighe explains the significance of this: “If it's known as a team that's expensive to be part of, we just shut the door on people and we're trying to keep that door wide open.” Collaborations like this, she said, “help shrink the opportunity gap and make sure that our women, our minority students, our first in their families to go to college” have extensive opportunities to pursue all potential pathways for excellence.

The existing Girl Scouts team had the resources and Mayfield had the permanent space, and now three years into our collaboration, both groups have benefited tremendously by their affiliation—a partnership that Mrs. Tighe is immensely proud of. “It's a community partnership with the Girl Scouts, it's a community partnership with young women and their families who attend other schools, and it's a community partnership with our Jet Propulsion Lab mentors...this was just a bonanza in that way!”

From Caroline’s first visit to Mayfield in 7th grade, she says she “felt a very strong connection with Mayfield, and felt welcomed by everyone.” She added, “The fact that a robotics program was also housed at Mayfield made me want to attend the school even more.” 

Students like Caroline are now invaluable members of this Girl Scouts team, and the number of Mayfield students participating in the program nearly doubles every year. As they forge their way into emerging disciplines and distinguish themselves in the careers of the future, the robotics team members feel part of a new zeitgeist. Youth movement leaders are becoming ever more visible on a global stage, sounding the alarm of concern about how future generations can live sustainably on this planet. And Mrs. Tighe sees those involved in the robotics club, and those engaged in similar technologically progressive pursuits, as deeply hopeful signs. “These students have confidence and optimism and enthusiasm,” she said. “They are dedicated to finding solutions for humanity and now they can channel that energy into being part of the solution.”
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Established in 1931, Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena, CA is a Catholic, independent, college preparatory school for young women grades 9-12. Noted for its rigorous academic program, which includes 21 Advanced Placement and Honors courses, Mayfield’s curriculum is underscored by a philosophy of educating the “whole child,” which also encourages commitment to and excellence in the arts, athletics, community service and spiritual growth. The nurturing environment at Mayfield Senior School allows each student to flourish in an atmosphere of personal attention.