Fields involving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are essential in today’s society. Not only because of the amount of jobs that rely on these areas, but because they guide us towards the improvement of our future. These fields have and will always be vital in our lives. For instance, let’s take a look at how medicine has increased the life expectancy of the average person. Or how smartphones have innovated the way we communicate. The homes we live in, the forms of transportations we use, and even the roads we cross have been enhanced through the advancement of engineering. And if we take mathematics into consideration, we now know that what our elementary teachers told us was true, math is all around us. From the money we spend in gift-giving during the holiday season to handling taxes. STEM fields shape our lives on a day-to-day basis
Yet, we must take into account that even though these areas are of great impact, most people don’t have the same opportunities to partake on them. There is a gender gap in STEM fields. In the US, women make up half of the workforce; despite this, only 24 percent of them actually hold a STEM job (Beede 1). This numbers are alarming because they represent a great disadvantage for women. STEM workers have higher wages and are less likely to experience joblessness than non-STEM workers (Langdon 1). Likewise, women with STEM jobs earn 33 percent more compared to those working in education or healthcare (“Women in STEM”). Then, why is it that the number of women is disproportionately low in these fields?
There are various aspects that contribute to this issue, such as: a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping, cultural expectations, and less family-friendly flexibility in STEM-related fields (Beede 1). If we want equal opportunities among genders, encouraging and supporting young women throughout their academic experiences is crucial.
In order to achieve this goal, a wide variety of organizations have aimed to engage girls worldwide to pursue education and careers in STEM fields. A great example of this, is the organization For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST). Their mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting Mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills (“Vision and Mission”). FIRST, takes a different approach in captivating children’s interest towards STEM fields. This organization has created the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), in which high school students and their mentors work together during a six-week period to create a robot that will later compete in a tournament against other robots from teams from all over the world (“At a Glance”).
However, FIRST is not only focused on robot-related games; as their motto goes, “FIRST is more than robots.” This organization has a unique culture that inspires high school students to participate in community-awareness campaigns that—as if it were a chain reaction—also bring STEM activities closer to other young people. Additionally, most FRC teams have made it their goal to positively influence children from low socioeconomic backgrounds to have an interest in STEM fields.
FRC teams like tCATs 5526, have created an impact in their community by working together with associations like FIRST Ladies and Sumando Niñas, which aim to promote the participation of young women in STEM areas. This team has mentored girls from Torreon—a city in northern Mexico—and opened new First Lego League (FLL) teams. FLL, similarly to FRC, is an international robotics competition, the difference being that this category is for elementary and middle school children (“At a Glance”). These new FLL teams have recently participated in a competition called Laguna Robot Challenge. tCATs coached five different teams from their city, four of which were only composed of girls. From these four teams, three came from a public school called Centro Teresa de Calcuta, and the other one from the school HECAT.
These young women, unlike other teams participating in Laguna Robot Challenge, didn’t have a workshop in their school nor any previous experience in mechanics and electronics. What they did have, was a positive attitude and a great will to learn new skills. Due to this, they were able to succeed in the tournament, and the team from the school HECAT was able to win 2nd place.
The excitement and effort these girls showed during the construction of their robot and throughout the competition is a crystal clear example that no matter their background, if you give people the opportunity and tools to follow their passions, they will be able to surpass any expectative. By showing young women they are just as capable as men and encouraging them to form part of programs like FIRST the interest of women in STEM fields will increase, and therefore the bridge between the gender-wage gap will close.
This blog was written by the Special Projects and Education Departments of FRC Team 5526, tCATs. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.
Freedom, such a small word for the controversy it has caused countries in the past and present. The fight for freedom at home goes back to 1775, when the 13 colonies went to war against Great Britain for the right to their independence. From that moment on, freedom has become the cornerstone for every American citizen.
Freedom to me means that I am able to be the person I want to be. No law, political ideology, or preconceived notion can prevent me from reaching my full potential. Being a girl, I appreciate the freedoms America allows me. There are so many women in the world who don’t have the freedoms to speak, act, dress, or think openly. Many girls and women in the world still don’t have the freedom to go to school and learn how to read, do math, or even write their own name. I am saddened by the story of 18 year old Malala, the Pakistani girl that was shot who spoke freely in her quest for education. At the same time, I am inspired by her ability to overcome this and become a world symbol for freedom and education. I feel so blessed to live in a country that gives me the freedom to get an education and chose my life’s path.
With opportunities provided to me, I have competed in FIRST Robotics for more that one-third of my life, and I have felt the doubt from other competitors. My all-girls robotics team has become one of the top teams in the world. If I lived in one of the countries that limit women’s education, I would never had the chance to prove them wrong. The freedoms to pursue my dreams have allowed me to rise above the doubt.
Freedom has become part of the core of our country, it has become the symbol of what the United States has to offer. Freedom shouldn’t be something countries fight about, it should be something that is expected. Women should be allowed to go to school and learn, they should be able to have the freedom to live up to their full potential, not bow down to laws that prevent them. Simply put, freedom means everyone has the opportunity to be the best person they can be.
This week's blog post was written by Caitlin Hunter. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.
Girls Robotics is on the rise! For proof of that, we had our Clifton NJ FLL (FIRST Lego League) qualifier in November, 2015 with 36 teams competing and two Champions Awards up for grabs. Two all girls teams, Robodevils and Exit 5A Robotics won both Champions Awards completing a clean sweep of the top FLL trophies.
Is that a first in FIRST?
Let us know if you’ve seen anything similar yet.
FLL in NJ is thriving spot for girls robotics teams. Exit 5A’s elder sister team, Exit 5 Robotics kicked off the NJ trend by winning three consecutive NJ State FLL Champions Awards from 2011 to 2013. Galaxy 5 continued the honor by winning two consecutive NJ Champions awards in 2014 and 2015. What will 2016 hold for NJ FLL?
In FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge), NJ’s WAGS made their mark in 2015 by becoming the first ladies team to win an NJ State Inspire Award. At the 2015 US National WRO (World Robot Olympiad) Exit 5 Robotics won the 1st Place Award and represented Team USA at the World Finals in Doha Qatar. Exit 5 Robotics continued on in VRC (VEX Robotics Competition) to win their 2nd qualifier’s Excellence Award to gain entry for the VRC US Open.
The girls are winning big in NJ’s robotics competitions! Share your stories with us in the comments!
This blog was written by Bill Lam, Co-Coach for FLL Team Exit 5A Robotics. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.
Have you ever wondered what it's like to be an FRC game announcer or MC? Hear what Joel Hurd, experienced GA and FIRST enthusiast has to say about doing what he loves, and inspiring people while doing it. You can follow Joel on twitter at @HurdFIRST.
What is your FIRST story?
My local FRC Team, Alpha Omega Robotics (470) from Ypsilanti, MI would host a demo every year at our community heritage festival and that was my first exposure while in elementary school. In 7th grade I was hanging out with an older friend and he took me to one of 470’s Saturday build sessions. As I took in the information they presented me I started contributing to the conversation more and more until I was more interested in it than my friend was. I asked the mentors to let me join on a trial basis and they obliged..
That year was 2008 and we finished last at the Great Lakes Invitational in our hometown, but I didn’t care - I was hooked. I spent time as the team’s chassis lead, but after 5 years I decided to leave the team when I was a senior due to time conflicts; however, I continued volunteering at events on the team’s behalf because I knew I wanted to keep FIRST in my life. I field reset for two years and was told innumerable times that I should be an MC or Announce, so this past year I tried it out at the Southfield District in Michigan. I worked with a wonderful man named Brian Graham as my MC and he helped keep me collected as we muddled through Week 1 of Recycle Rush. I really tried to be as professional as possible while weaving in my snarky, sassy, and silly personality into my commentary. People ended up liking it, and since Michigan expanded their districts this past year, I kept getting asked to fill in for events.
I ended this season hosting the award ceremony at the Michigan State Championship in Dave Verbrugge’s place, which was a huge honor, and this offseason I also got invited to do some announcing at IRI. If you were to have told me 6 months ago that’s where I’d be I would have called you crazy, but when you try to approach things with a spirit of excellence and take your opportunity and run with it, crazy things will happen.
Overall, what is the best part of the FIRST community?
It’s easily the generosity. Everyone gives so much time, money, and energy on every level. When I was asked if I was going to IRI this year on twitter I responded I couldn’t because I had no place to stay. Within an hour I had 5 people offering to help me out.
What is an improvement that you’d like to see in the FIRST community?
Our current volunteer culture is one where I feel we’re not sure why we’re volunteering. Are we doing it for us? Are we doing it for the kids? Are we doing it because we’re running away from broken home lives and FIRST gives us a place to be for 4 months which provides us free meals and t-shirts? Am I volunteering because I just got through an awful breakup with my previous relationship and am emotionally dependent on the positive social interactions that Game Announcing provides me? (Here’s a hint, the last one was about me! *winky face*)
Article Number 347 on the topics that are not to be spoken about in the realm of FIRST is that almost everyone involved has issues within their personal lives too. As mentors, the time commitment running a team requires is ridiculous, and we all clap up these mentors who have been giving up so much of their life for FIRST like it’s a wonderful thing and we fail to acknowledge how unhealthy it is that these people are often neglecting the rest of their lives for this activity.
Now I can bring these up, I can use my platform and say these are issues, but I don’t have solutions, and as a 20 year old kid that’s just trying to get out of his parent’s basement, I haven’t the slightest clue where to find them.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start MCing?
Understand that you’re not a clown, you’re a brand ambassador. Understand that you serve the faces in the crowd AND the faces behind the glass. Your job is to facilitate an environment where memories will be made for the spectators and the students. Especially for younger GA’s and MC’s, if you’re good at what you do, you will receive praise and positive feedback, but you can’t let it go to your head. I’ll be the first to admit I wrestled with my pride all season long, but in the end no one’s giving me a blue banner. Take pride in the memories you help create, in the connections you make, and be humble in everything you do.
A good thing to remember is that every move you make, every step you take, they’ll be watching you. Think of yourself as a game presentation consultant. Does screaming into the mic make the game and brand of FIRST look better? No? Don’t do it. Does impersonating Beavis and Butthead for a match make the game and brand of FIRST look better? No? Don’t do it.
Lastly, you need to make sure you’re paying attention to your DJ (or whoever’s running the soundboard) at all times. Everyone’s been to events where the man on the mic can’t be heard or is blowing out your eardrums. Only so much can be done at the soundboard to prevent this problem and the DJ can’t rip the mic out of your hand mid match and tell you to tone it up or down a bit. If you glance at the DJ every 15 seconds it’s much easier to pick up the messages he’s putting down, and that makes everyone happier.
With the shift to two champs coming up, what is your advice for teams to make the best of it?
Honestly though, Christopher George Latore Wallace, or “The Notorious B.I.G.” as some people like to call him, once said “Mo money, mo problems!” and Joel Aaron Hurd, or “@HurdFIRST” as some people like to call him has often said “Mo points, mo fun!” (in regards to matches) so I’m going to take a page out of those great men’s books and say my philosophy on this issue is “Mo champs, mo party.”
When I was a wee lad in my second year of FRC, I got to experience the move from regionals to the district system in 2009. It was met with a lot of trepidation from everyone, but it saved a bunch of teams from having to close shop, mine included. Nowadays I can’t imagine Michigan robotics any other way. I feel like the same thing is going to happen with the multiple championships. We’re all going to get there and it’s going to be the same huge party it always is, there’s just gonna be another party a few hundred miles away at a different time to boot.
It’s okay to be scared of change. The emotional attachment everyone has is a testament to the environment that FIRST is able to create, and no one wants to lose that. At the same time, no one wins the jackpot without taking risks. If we want to see FIRST continue to grow, we have to have some growing pains. It’s proof we’re heading in the right direction.
Would you encourage young women to get involved with FIRST? Why?
Yes. Why? Well let me just give you the same reasons I tell young men. It’s a great environment to gain lifelong skills and friends while preparing yourself to be a young professional. Also it looks great on college applications and blobety blah blah blah! Just because you’re a female doesn’t mean you need to be pandered to with special reasoning like make up and unicorns. If you care about your future, no matter how you see, FIRST will help the future you envision for yourself materialize.
JUST DO IT!
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The first time I can remember showing an interest in STEM was when I was in kindergarten. A guest speaker had come in and was telling us about some of his work as a scientist. Though exactly what it was that excited me is fuzzy, I clearly remember getting picked up and telling my mom all about it. “Mommy, I want to be a scientist!” She kind of laughed in a rather mocking way. “That’s not something for a girl to do.” My friends at school would always tell me that “boys’ brains were wired for math and science,” so it was “normal” for girls to hate math and science. At 5 years old, my dreams of being a scientist were murdered by those around me because I felt entirely inadequate.
A couple years later, my mom decided it was time to sit me down and show me the men she had swooned over as a teen in the popular 80’s movie, Top Gun. To my mother’s dismay, it was not the sweaty, shirtless men that had me smitten, but the F-14 Tomcats that flew across the screen. “Mommy, I want to fly just like that!” Another burst of laughter, “Good luck trying to get in any fighter jet as a girl.” Despite all of the discouragement, every year I was the only girl to ever participate in our school-wide math competition and the boys would all tease me.
When I reached 5th grade, my school allowed for students to independently study math at their own pace. Of course, I signed up immediately to do this, and again, was the only girl. I took Math 5 and 6 that year and the following year Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1. Before starting middle school, I took a placement test. Though I had all of the proof of the levels of math I had taken on my transcripts and was accused of cheating for having abnormally high scores on the math portion of the test, they refused to put an incoming 7th grade girl in Geometry, meanwhile, a boy who I had gone to elementary school who had completed Pre-Algebra was allowed to be moved into Algebra 1. I protested and asked to test out, but they denied my request. I then began to despise all things STEM.
By the time high school rolled around, I was set on a career path requiring absolutely no math. Second semester of my freshman year, I was given a huge slap in the face when I was forced into FIRST. I was so angry that I had to join my team. I was shy, uncomfortable, and an adversary of STEM. I was determined to be miserable. After 6 weeks, I had helped build a robot that I assumed only 10 or so “losers” would see. My views of FIRST drastically shifted after my first competition. Not hundreds, but thousands of students, 60+ teams. FIRST was much more enormous than I had anticipated. Honing in on my deepest fear, my team forced all rookie members to go scouting. I had just developed enough courage to talk to my own teammates and now I was expected to talk to perfect strangers! I was terrified, but after the first few awkward discussions, I felt a strange sense of comfort and belonging. FIRST felt like a home. My home. High stress levels balanced with talking to new people and working on a robot for 12 hours; I was in love. The following week, I, the rookie freshman, was yelling at seniors to get work done for our second regional event. The second year, I re-enrolled with vigor. I was ecstatic about the next season and what was in store. However, with this new passion came new feedback from my family and school. My grandfather, “You cannot do anything in that sort of field; it is not fitting for a girl.” Not fitting for a girl? Every time I was at a family function I was berated with negative comments about my new found love. Any college I showed interest in I would be told I wasn’t the right fit. If I started talking about a project that interested me, I would be shut down. At school, since I go to a small school, the principal got word I was in robotics and wanted to do engineering instead of a liberal arts career. Every day he would ask something along the lines of “Are you sure you want to be in a man’s world?” He constantly tried to change my mind. In the beginning of my junior year, my mentors had seen all of my growth and kept moving me up in ranking. I started our business team, I was teaching rookies new things, contacting sponsors, and much more. The beginning of the 2015 build season began with a hard blow. When talking about submitting a design for prototyping, I was approached by a senior on the team. He pulled me aside and said, “What do you think you’re doing? Prototyping and design isn’t your area. Stick to business and getting us snacks. You’re a girl. Let’s be real. You will never be an engineer, so you might as well try something you’re good at.” I went home that day furious and in tears. How could he talk to me like that? I did so much work for the team. His team literally would not exist if not for me. Every time I saw him, he would give me a look as if to say, “You don’t belong.” His attitude entirely changed when my mentors officially declared me captain and nominated me for Dean’s List. However, that was not the end of sexism on my team. We were desperately trying to work as hard as we could to finish this robot for an event in the next few weeks. I went into our machine shop to finish up fabrication on a part that was necessary to complete the lift mechanism on our robot that I had been working on tirelessly along with our active intake system. Our mechanical lead, whom I had given the title, stood in front of the drill press, which was all I needed to use and said, “Get out. You’re in the way of all of the guys who are actually working.” My safe haven began to flood with hostility. I decided I would not be shaken. I knew what I wanted and no amount of criticism or sexism could keep me from achieving my lofty goals of getting a doctorate in aerospace engineering. Despite my firmness in my goals, I knew some action needed to be taken. I discussed this problem with a mentor and of course he gave the team a talk on treating teammates with respect. I felt a sense of victory, but my bouts with sexism were far from over.
I had been selected as a delegate for Girls State, which was sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary. Prior to attending, we were required to go to a tea. At this tea, a fellow delegate was seated next to me. In order to fill the awkward silence, she asked every delegate what they did on their free time and what they wanted to do in the future. The responses around the table were relatively similar: sports, Model UN, student government, debate, dance, theater, choir. She came to me last. “Well, how about you?” Of course, I was elated I had the chance to talk about FIRST so I blurted out, “I do robotics and I want to be an engineer and….” She cut me off, “Darling, you know that IS a man’s job, right? Building robots sounds so filthy.” A man’s job? I was no longer interested in attending Girls State. If all of the girls would be like that, there was no way I would fit in. Of course, I went anyway. To my surprise, there were many girls who were just as enthused by STEM as I was and the friends I made there were extremely supportive of my goals.
This year, I have been given the worst teacher at my school for two periods. In short, he loves to fail honor roll students and blemish their perfect records. My grades in his classes were dropping with nothing being entered in and he was failing me on assignments that were perfect. Unfortunately, his two classes are STEM (AP Physics C and AP Computer Science). When my dad and I went to complain to the principal and counselors, the principal said, “The class average appears to be fine. The work must have finally caught up with you. I told you women were not meant for STEM.” It’s my final year there, so at this point, I do not care what he says nor have I ever, but I will not let this happen to girls at my school any longer, so I am taking steps to improve this attitude that has taken over my school. Though I do not believe it will change entirely while I am there, an acceptance of women in STEM is slowly spreading. While I still face sexism with my family and school, I cannot let them win by quitting my dreams.
I tell you about the events in my life because they lead me to where I am today. Although many of them, fraught with sexism and judgement, impaled my excitement for STEM, they pointed me on the path which now makes me a proud engineering student, and captain of my FRC team. I tell you my story, knowing many of you face similar adversity. The words “It’s a man’s job” may have been thrown around you as well. Know that it takes great courage to stand up against what others foolishly believe, and swim opposite of society's strong current, but it is this courage that made people like Amelia Earhart, Karen Nyberg, Maja Mataric, and Sally Ride, successful. If you are to take one thing from my rant, remember that if you stand proud, and strong, you can, and will be successful.
This blog was written by an author who wishes to remain anonymous. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.
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