For those of you who don’t know, I am currently a freshman at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. Coming from a family filled with engineers, I felt obligated to follow their path and going into the fall semester, I was ecstatic to finally start the journey. As a FIRST alumni, it was seemed like an obvious field to enter, and as a girl I would have access to lots of opportunities. However, I quickly realized I was terrible at physics, and not only that, I hated it! I didn’t know why I was struggling so much because I had spent the past three years of my life building robots and getting told how I would be a phenomenal engineer. Despite these setbacks, I was determined to succeed. As the semester progressed, it became evident that I was really struggling and no matter how much time I put into studying, I still wasn’t succeeding.
A professor told me one day that everyone has their own unique path and despite having a list of classes I need to take, in the end I would be modifying it anyways. For some reason that really clicked with me and I began to look into design classes. I knew instantly that it was where I belonged but felt bad for leaving the engineering world behind. After taking some design classes I realized that I could still incorporate technology if I wanted to, and that it was so much fun.
I’m sharing this little story about how I realized I should become a graphic designer instead of an engineer not because I think people should be one or another, but rather to find real passion. Even if you are a FIRST student, that shouldn’t be the reason you do something, it should be because you truly love it.
This blog was written by Claudia Dube.
As many of you have noticed, when you make a relationship in FIRST, it sticks for a long time. Not just the friendly “hello” to another team, but a real, true connection with someone. FIRST is an environment where most of us come from the same back grounds, such as misfits, social problems, don’t fit in anywhere else. Once you join FIRST, it’s an unspoken law that no one can treat you as that, because we’re all misfits that fit together in the end.
I was a member of an FLL team for 3 years, am captain of an FTC team for 5 years, and co-captain of my FRC team for the past 3 years. My FIRST year (pun intended) was in 6th grade. When I was introduced, I wasn’t totally into it. That’s saying it in a nice way. I tried to quit my FLL and FTC team for about 2 years until I realized that there was no way of getting out of it, I was going to be forced to participate until… well I graduate. My FIRST year in robotics, the year that I wanted to get out and have my way, was the year I met my best friend.
Miraculously, my brothers FTC team somehow made it to the Pennsylvania State Championships in 2010, when I was just participating as team marketing with my sister. I ran a booth outside the gymnasium that the competition was being held in and was giving out flyers and dancing robots (you wind them up and they do a funny little dance). The reason I picked to set up in this position is that the pits were in a different room, so you had to pass my table whenever you went to a match or left a match. It was perfect! I talked to a lot of people that day, and a lot of the same people multiple times, including my soon to be best friend.
He was scouting for his team with a few other members, and they seemed just as young as me. He was super nice and outgoing, and we had so much in common from the first conversation to the end of the day. As soon as I was done at my booth, I went to hang out with him in the stands. His team was in the finals… and so was mine… against each other. It happens, and we couldn’t have cared less how the match would have played out, because we were just happy talk to each other about anything and everything.
By the end of the day, his team had be the winning alliance and mine was awarded the prestigious inspire award. We were going to championships together! While cleaning up, he asks me for my phone number, and me being in 6th grade I didn’t have one… so we exchanged emails. That is how we kept in contact for about a month and a half until St. Louis, alongside of skype. I knew from the beginning that this kid was going to be my best friend, just from the way he wore his bowtie the day we met.
His nerdiness and the way that he wasn’t perfect made him so fantastic in a way that is indescribable. FIRST makes it so easy to make friends, because nobody has expectations so there are no disappointments. Everyone is smart, caring, open, and a joy to be around. As stated before, the entire FIRST community is somewhere that I would not give up the experiences for for anything. I know that this may be over stated, but robotics really isn’t just about the robots. It’s about the team work, learning, and relationships that you make over the years.
And so this article is for my best friend in the entire world, who has been there for me, in and out of FTC and FRC seasons, who is perfect in an imperfect way, and doesn’t mind showing off his nerdiness every once in a while (or every day). Connor, this is for the 5 years of fighting over robot designs and whose CADD is better.
FIRST should be recognized for building more than robots, but dancing robots that start new friendships.
This blog was written by Sarah Fogwell from FTC 4856 Minnie Mash. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, sign up on the schedule.
My mentor, Dan, has a couple of lovely daughters who are growing up how I wish I did. They live in an environment that is friendly to both the pink, tea-party lifestyle of many little girls as well as the innovative and engaging world of STEM learning. They have parents who encourage them to seek out their interests, whatever they may be, and not to define them as mutually exclusive.
Many different companies with STEM campaigns are trying to cater to girls like these. For example, the toy set LEGO Friends is the company's attempt to turn a toy with a primarily male audience into a creative platform for all children. These new toys and campaigns have wonderful motivations-- everyone knows that STEM careers have a huge gender gap, and many well-intentioned groups are trying to fix that by modifying their products or creating new ones specifically for girls.
But can you really target all girls? And will it do anything to draw more interest in STEM? I don't think the answer is quite clear. LEGO Friends, as an example, is specifically designed for young ladies, and is comparable to other youth play sets like Polly Pocket orBratz dolls. The color scheme is pastel, full of pinks and purples, the cities include hair salons and cafés, and the figurines themselves have been altered to be more appealing to little girls. While I understand the reasons for these changes, the way this product, and others, go about trying to encourage STEM engagement in young girls is misguided.
What LEGO has done is not to tear down a barrier, but to vivify it, as LEGO's have essentially been gendered. Despite wellintentions, they have made a LEGO set that is completely different from all of their other sets, even going as far as to change one of the signatures of the company, which includes more girls in the market but not in the community. These substantial changes seem to highlight the differences between male sets and female sets of LEGOs, and though they engage young girls they also still reinforce traditional gender roles. The pet shops of the Friends set are in stark contrast to the police stations and workshops of the original LEGO Cities sets, providing little encouragement for actual pursuit of STEM careers when the little girls grow out of their toys. In addition,those who are already interested in STEM may feel alienated for purchasing what will now be considered the "boy sets."
So if targeted campaigns don't work (and in some cases, actually hurt the female STEM community), then how on earth are we going to get more girls involved?
The answer is actually quite simple: don't target girls, but instead work on making FIRST and STEM fields more open communities. The best environment that attracts girls is one of respect, flexibility, and open-mindedness, something that campaigns that target girls fail to do. Open communities acknowledge everyone's unique circumstances and work towards being inclusive, not trying to single out certain groups because of their differences.
This encouragement comes from people, not objects. Dan and his wife are the ones that make the real difference for their daughters, not the toys they play with. Parents, mentors, and students all have the potential to influence young girls and open the door to STEM education, and when someone feels accepted in a community they will always come back. Let's make FIRST something to come back to.
This blog post was written by Sarah Powazek from FRC Team 1318, The Issaquah Robotics Society. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, sign up on the schedule.
Hardly a FIRST competition goes by without someone mentioning how FIRST enables culture change, how a student in the audience will win a Nobel Prize, and how FIRST is creating the next generation of STEM professionals. While all of this is true, I believe we rarely discuss the real reason FIRST will change the world and the lasting legacy it will leave.
I believe this impact comes from students from around the world connecting and learning that people are people no matter where they were born.
Imagine a world where...
...a deaf all-girls team from Egypt receives the largest applause in a silent room.
...a world-champion team from America picks a reform school team from China to join their alliance.
...a coeducational team from Alaska exchanges care packages with an all-boys team from Saudi Arabia who they met once at competition.
...where students from 2 countries join together to form a single team.
...mentors travel around the world to help rookie teams internationally.
Our grandparent’s, and even our parent’s, generation would say these are impossibilities. Yet, I’ve seen each of these happen at FIRST events.
Perhaps someday some of those students will reconnect when they are leaders of nations and multinational companies. And then, they will remember what they learned through FIRST; that people are people no matter where they were born. When that happens, the world we live in will be a better, safer place.
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