Later that year my dad volunteered to be a judge at the FIRST Tech Challenge Maryland Championship that was being held at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, inviting my brother and me along to watch the competition. Touring the presentation area, I was astounded to discover such complex robots and became fascinated with the obscure, undeveloped idea of engineering I had generated at the time. When qualifying matches began in the field area, however, I was disheartened to discover solely or mostly male drive teams. Perceiving the lack of girls controlling and mobilizing the robot at this competition, though not extinguishing my newly kindled interest in FIRST, was a discouraging experience that instituted tighter chains around my cage of doubt. Yet, as I attended more and more qualifiers and state championships over the years, I noted increased female representation and consequently grew a small kernel of hope that I, too, could become an integral member of a FTC team.
This dream, initially overshadowed by disbelief and apprehension, came into fruition when I applied to a local FTC team through my high school in my sophomore year. My acceptance into Team 5421, RM’d and Dangerous, which I had seen competing even during my middle school years, has opened new doors and allowed me to integrate myself in STEM more closely than ever before. The other girls in my team have additionally given me priceless encouragement, and I am extremely fortunate to have been able to overcome the intimidating, male-only notion of STEM engendered in me early on.
I hope that girls who may be facing such challenges in the present can realize that their futures are not determined by others. Similarly, I aspire that girls will be able to discover a network and community of unique individuals to support them throughout their STEM journey. My greatest piece of advice as someone whose hesitation and uncertainty transformed into passion and confidence is thus to not be afraid to deviate from the norm and instead embrace a new direction. After all, individuality in STEM can only foster, not hinder, both personal and collective growth.
This blog was written by Katie Kolodner of FTC team 5421 RM'd and Dangerous. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.