Sun finding her passion through STEM


Meghna Kulkarni

Coppell High School senior Ellen Sun is a former GIGAWOT camper, VEX VR daily sessions instructor and a part of Technibots, an IBM team pro group. Sun, along with her instructors and teammates, discuss past experiences in STEM and voice their opinions on women in the field. Photo Illustration by Meghna Kulkarni and Esther Kim

Minnie Gazawada, Staff Writer/Designer

The world of science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) is dominated by males with a disproportionate number of women, however that does not stop  girls such as Ellen Sun, a Coppell High School senior, from entering the field and succeeding. 

“[Sun’s] got the type of mind, the creativity, and the curiosity that is [an] exemplary type of student in the STEM field,” CHS computer programming teacher Joe Musgrave said.

Sun was first exposed to the world of STEM from observing her father’s work, Paul Sun,  in information technology (IT) as a child.

“He would just type in a few command codes into the command prompt and a bunch of things popped up and I thought that was really cool,” Sun said.

That interest led her to exploring STEM through various classes, camps and groups. 

In eighth grade, Sun enrolled in principles of information technology (PIT), an introductory course offered at Coppell Middle School North teaching the basics of coding. This class sparked a realization to Sun as she began to see herself in a STEM career in the future.

“I found myself [liking] coding a lot, and I knew that maybe this is what I want[ed] to do. Before I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I [grew] up, and [now] I was like ‘oh, maybe I wanted to be a programmer,’” Sun said.

GIGAWOT, Girls Inspire Greatly About The World Of Technology, is a four-day camp in Coppell for middle school girls recommended by teachers to learn about different pathways in STEM. 

“Girls tend to lose interest in STEM early on, so IBM wanted to do something about [the loss of interest],” IBM GIGAWOT camp lead Jo Ann Hill said. 

Sun was offered the opportunity to join the camp as a camper, which included learning about cyber security and programming robots. 

As Sun developed her interests in the camp, she showed talent in the STEM field. 

“I remember she did stand out. There were a number of activities, but with the robotics team [Sun] stood out from when they were doing the programming; she had done very well on programming the robot,” Hill said. 

After following  her fascination with STEM to high school, Sun later applied for a robotics team in tenth grade. 

Technibots is a competitive robotics team where each member is designated a role; Sun’s position is the scouting lead. One of her tasks is to gather data on other teams, as competitions are designed to collaborate with other teams. 

“At the beginning I didn’t take her seriously, [when] our teams were developing scouting systems we moved on to HPML, CSS, Java. [Sun] really surprised me, I only gave her two lessons [and] she kept adding features,” Technibots coach Fang Wang said. “Not only just interviewing teams, but also [she also] had technical contributions coding wise.” 

Sun and her team represented team USA for the 2021 First Global Challenge, an Olympic-style international robotics competition. Her team ranked 25th out of the 160 countries’ youth teams.

“[Technibots] taught me to be a leader. Before I used to be pretty introverted, I wouldn’t talk to anyone, but in the team I had to communicate in order to get our work done and the presentation part of robotics,” Sun said. “[The opportunity] taught me a lot more than just coding, it taught me about team collaboration, [time management], speaking and interacting [with] others.”

During March 2020, the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak,  the United State saw major shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE)  Sun was tasked to reach out to healthcare facilities with the need for PPE, and Sun collaborated with other robotics teams and sent more than 5,000 3D printed PPE, including face shields and ear guards to hospitals in need. 

After showing her talent and innovative skills to Wang, Sun was offered the opportunity to succeed even further; returning to the GIGAWOT camp as a speaker rather than a camper in the past. 

Sun was able to lead the Video Editor for XML (Extensible Markup Language) Virtual Reality daily sessions and curated a full curriculum for the campers to learn about the basics of robotics. 

“She was very instrumental to the camp,” Hill said. “She led VEX VR and that was one of the highlights of the camp.”  

Sun thinks there needs to be more promotion to STEM pathways, as the unbalanced ratio of men to women still exists today,  Sun personally describes smaller numbers of women in computer programming classes. 

“Women need to be included and part of the conversation, part of the solutions. We have great ideas,” Hill said. “We just gotta see that there is a place for us.”

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