Friday nights at CSUN are relatively quiet. There aren’t many people left on campus by the time the sun sets on the Oviatt Lawn. But, just directly behind the library, in Jacaranda Hall, there are about a dozen engineering students packed into a classroom working late into the evening — and only one of them is a girl.
Erin Kubo is a mechanical engineering student who is the only female member of the CSUN Matabots team.
Only about 8 percent of mechanical engineers in the work force are women, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project website.
“When I first joined, I was like, ‘I don’t know how to drive this thing,’” said Kubo in regards to the robots she is all too familiar with now. After being on the team for about four years, she assists as the team’s robotics designer and part-time programmer.
The Matabots are a collective group of motivated individuals who all share a common interest and passion for science and engineering. The main purpose of the club is to design, build and program robots that will compete in the World VEX U Robotics competition.
Erin and her teammates are working on the design of one small bot and one large bot that will compete at preliminary tournaments against robotics teams from other schools like University of Southern California and UC Berkeley. Ultimately, these smaller competitions determine if the bots qualify to compete in the world’s competition.
After years of playing varsity soccer and softball, Kubo was no stranger to competition but had very limited knowledge on how to design a robot that could actually win national and global competitions.
“When I first joined, I didn’t know anything about robotics at all,” said Kubo. “I actually picked mechanical engineering on a whim.”
Both of her parents came from engineering backgrounds and encouraged her to pick mechanical engineering as her major because of how broad the field is. She later developed a deep passion for learning the ins and outs of robotic design and landed an internship with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Interns at the JPL work with world-renowned scientists and engineers on some of the most important research and space missions that explore earth and the outer solar system beyond, according to the JPL website.
Fridays after spending the day interning and learning about the field of aerospace engineering, Kubo makes her way over to CSUN to put all her skills to the test with her fellow teammates.
Although Kubo is the only female on the team in an already male-dominated industry, her teammates have never made her feel like she is on the outs.
“Erin is truly a delight to have on the team,” said fellow Matabots team member, Steven Paqueo. “She is more than a team member, she is a good friend too.”
Kubo credits the club for piquing her interest in robotics and for ultimately teaching her everything she knows about design and programming.
Along with diligently working to finish the bots in time for the World VEX U Robotics competition in April and juggling her internship at the JPL, Kubo is preparing to graduate this spring.
After graduation, Kubo ultimately hopes to continue to work in the design aspects of aerospace engineering and wants to continue to work on flight hardware that is supposed to replace the Mars Opportunity rover called M-2020, set to launch next year.