Looking back on my time as a student in FIRST though, I realize I gained so much more. And I'm not talking about the amazing friends, mentors and experiences I was lucky enough to have (although those were pretty fantastic). I'm graduating from Drexel University in June with a Bachelors in Civil Engineering. I've had three six month internships while at school, and am now applying for full time positions for after graduation. As I am undertaking a job search, polish my resume and start interviewing, I have realized that so many of the skills I have used in my internships, skills I will ultimately use to (hopefully) have a successful career, were obtained back in High School, back when my life was all about FIRST.
You may be thinking, well, I'm passionate about FIRST, or my team, or my favorite robot I've built, but I don't know if I'm passionate about engineering, or about school, or about my job. I know how you feel. It's easy to be passionate about an organization when you have people like Woodie Flowers to look up to, and teammates and mentors who become your family. You can learn though to find things in your school and work life to be just as invested in. Once you've tapped into that passion and emotion once, it's easy to get back there. Being that person who is excited and invested in what they do will make you a better person, a better employee, and most importantly, happier.
I learned how to be confident in FIRST. I learned how to stand up in front of judges and tell them why my team deserved to win an award. I learned how to work in a team, when to take charge and when to defer to others. I learned how to create something I was proud of, take initiative, be brave. I can keep listing things I learned but honestly that gets boring. What all of this amazing learning did though was give me the confidence to tackle any challenge. Oh you think this interview is scary? When I was 15 I was writing and presenting Chairmans for my team. That was scary. I did that. I can do this. And so on. Whenever I start to doubt myself, or feel like I can't do something, I remember everything I accomplished in FIRST. If I could do all that before I was 18, I can definitely handle whatever comes next. I'm not saying I'm going to be the best, or even all that great, at everything I do, but I am going to be able to tackle it head on, with confidence in myself.
Working with other people can be really tough. Even when you like, love or deeply admire another person, working with them can still present some serious challenges. On my FIRST team I learned how to approach different kinds of people, how people change when they're under stress, but most of all I learned that when you're on a team, you have to be able to communicate with everyone. Most people who know me would say I'm a naturally talkative person, which is true, but talking is not the same thing as communicating. On my team I learned how important it can be to tailor your approach to a conversation depending on the mood and personality of the person you're talking with, and on the situation you're in. I learned not to take things so personally. I learned sometimes you just need to let people be angry. I learned sometimes people just need to rant and other times talking won't fix your problems. I also learned the difference between casual communication among teammates and formal presentation decorum. Conveying information to a judge at a competition was different then explaining your ideas to a mentor in the work room. I can't explain exactly how I learned these differences, these subtle approaches. A change in body language and tone, different vocabulary. No one every wrote out a manual, and yet I did learn these nuances things. Now when I give presentations or work on a team people notice these small things, this awareness and ability to communicate effectively. It doesn't matter whether you're in school, at an internship or home with your roommates, these skills you learn in FIRST will stay with you, and will improve your ability to communicate well into adulthood.
Being Your (Female) Self
We are lucky to be in a time and in a generation where people are becoming more and more open minded about gender roles. But it's still not easy being a woman, much less an extremely feminine woman, in an industry that's still so male centric. I still have doubts and questions about how my gender affects my standing professionally, but I will say that FIRST gave me a pretty ideal picture of what to work towards. When I was in FIRST I saw all girls teams with bright pink robots and team members wearing skirts. They competed on an even playing field with other teams. I never felt like my gender mattered when I was at FIRST competitions. I wasn't being judged on my personality, my team was being judged on our performance. And now that I've volunteered at FIRST events where I've been inside judging rooms, and I've never heard gender be brought up in a judging conversation. To be judged purely on your merits, on your performance, and not by your gender, is an ideal world that unfortunately doesn't exist very much outside FIRST. But being exposed to that world reminds me, there's nothing wrong with wearing a lot of pink.