First of all, let’s take a look at the impact FIRST has had on girls. According to the FIRST Impact study for 2020, 46 percent of the participants were girls. This is amazing, especially considering that, according to the US census, only 27 percent of workers in STEM careers are female. While it’s true that not all the students in FIRST robotics will move on to partake in these areas, it does show that participation offers a welcoming and equitable community for both genders.
Next, let’s look at the impact these girls have gone on to make. Through FIRST, many of these girls are getting the opportunity to make a splash in big ways. Dolphin Droids, an all-girl FIRST Tech Challenge Team (FTC), made the news some weeks ago for winning third place in the Connect award. The Missfits, a girls’ FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team, caught the attention of a journalist, and a documentary was made on their 2019-2020 season. The Afghan Girls Robotics Team, another all-girls FIRST Team, took the pandemic as an opportunity to save lives, designing a low-cost ventilator. This team faced many hurdles on its path to success to boot: They were not even allowed to compete in the U.S. initially, and had to fight for the right to participate. Now if that’s not girl power, I don’t know what is!
That ONE Team 4967, the FIRST Team I am part of, has always recognized the importance of girls in FIRST. In fact, we wouldn’t exist without one! Founded by Tami Hartley, or, as we all like to call her, Mrs. Coach, That ONE Team is currently led by two female student co-captains, and it has been one of the best resume-building experiences of my life. It was through FRC that I first met another girl who shared my interest in aerospace engineering, and it was through my time participating that I got hands-on experience in embedded controls programming and leadership within STEM fields. Although I have only participated during 2020 and 2021, my team, like countless other FIRST teams around the world, did not let the pandemic stop them from achieving their objectives, and kept busy when last year’s competition was cancelled by making PPE for essential workers.
What does all this demonstrate? FIRST has the potential to make a serious difference when it comes to women in STEM fields. The statistics clearly show that, afforded the opportunity, resources, and information, girls are just as willing and capable as boys at participating in engineering and other STEM matters. And yet, despite this, if we look at the field of aviation alone, women constitute only 18 percent of aerospace engineers, and a mere 5 percent of pilots. This is not from a lack of skill, either; women are equally well-performing in these fields. The issue, or at least from what I’ve seen as an informal math tutor at my school, is a combination of confidence and exposure. By providing girls with a safe, open environment to test the waters of engineering, FIRST Robotics could be a real force for change within the workforce, helping girls realize their dreams one robot at a time.
2020 Impact Study