I am 14, and have spent over half of my life around robotics. Most of my time has been spent inside a felt green piranha suit. That’s not even a joke. I was a mascot for my older sister’s robotics team, Fish in the Boat, for 5ish years. It was a sweaty job, to say the least. Before even competing on a robotics team, I had been to FLL state tournaments, FTC regional, state, and super regional tournaments, and four successive world championships. All of which I spent in a fish costume. I feel my experience has been a tad unique, and maybe a tad fishy.
Lakeville has had competitive representation at the FIRST World Festival for the last five consecutive years, and has brought home trophies for the last three. (My sister Erin and I both have world championship wins under our belts.) Yet robotics is still Lakeville’s best kept secret. Yeah...I don’t get it either.
So here’s how we’ve grown to that point: Had Erin not joined Fish in the Boat when she was an eighth grader, FLL in Lakeville, Minnesota would be nearly non-existent. My sister’s introduction to FIRST sparked my Mom’s (Maureen Carrigan’s) introduction to FLL, the creation of teams in Oak Hills Elementary school, the creation of my team, and eventually the continued creation of FLL teams today.
Fish in the Boat was the beginning. A FLL turned FTC team, they were the first major competitive team in our community. Not only were they competitively extremely successful, they cared about FIRST and all it supports: mentorship, creation of teams, coopertition, gracious professionalism, and sharing experience to make your competition better. They were the team who initially introduced the school district to robotics. Then, Erin introduced Mom to robotics. Once Mom found out what Erin was doing spending so much time in someone else’s basement, and saw what her daughter could do on a robotics team, she was impressed. Also impressed was Erin and my elementary school gifted and talented teacher, Holly Traub, now head of the gifted and talented program in the district. Mrs. Traub then came and asked my Mom if she wanted to co-coach robotics in 2011 within the Ignite! gifted and talented school run inside Oak Hills Elementary. And thus, Coach Carrigan was born! My mom has now coached 13 FLL teams--because she had once recognized what robotics had done for Erin, and wanted to spread the opportunity to other kids. Ten of her 13 teams have advanced to the FLL State Tournament, including her team this season.
Then came my team! AKA: The Story of How My Dad Lost His Man-Cave to Middle School Girls With LEGOs. The summer of 2013, Mom asked me if I wanted to start a robotics team in our basement. She will try to convince you that I asked HER if we could start a team, but that was not the case. (Hi, Mom.) So I gathered my five closest friends, and we formed Caught in a Brainstorm! The first year, we were a rookie team with veteran help. Our first season as seventh graders we won second place creative presentation for our research project The REAL Real Housewives of the Red Cross, a judges award, and placed 9th at the state tournament. Our second and final season as eighth graders, we won 1st place creative presentation, 2nd place core values, and 2nd place champions award at the state level, and then won 3rd place creative presentation internationally at the 2015 FIRST World Festival for our slam poem research project. We were also the FIRST Ladies FLL partners!!! As a team, we did outreach whenever possible. We demoed at the Science Museum of Minnesota, the Works Museum, the Minnesota State Fair, the Minnesota Red Cross, the Dakota County Technical College, for the Mayor of Lakeville, and for every school district employee in isd 194. Even after aging out of FLL, we are a team still actively involved with mentorship of FLL in Lakeville, in Minnesota, and even internationally with teams in Israel and Brazil. The first thing I introduce about myself when I meet people is that I am on a robotics team. The second thing I do is hand them a business card.
Through the successes of Fish in the Boat, Caught in a Brainstorm, and Mom’s many teams, robotics in our community has been growing in a big way. This year, there are 13 competing FLL teams. Eight of which advanced to their sectional tournaments, four of which advanced to the MN FLL State Tournament. Most of these new teams are run through Community Ed, which allows for coaches and teams to sign up, pay a fee per team member, and receive the field kit, a robot, and the regional tournament registration fee. Many of these new teams are rookies this year, and have team members that are former competitors of one of the Oak Hills Elementary School teams. Mom and I have had an active part in aiding all of these teams through practice judging, mock tournaments, organized scrimmages, house calls, coaching seminars, loaning out equipment and supplies, sending out valuable online and literary resources, and answering any and all questions.
Our focus is all on extending the opportunity to compete on a robotics team that Erin and I both have received, and my mom has observed for the last seven years to new and more students. We, as FIRST competitors, coaches, and team members, (and piranha mascots) know why FIRST is important. The next step is to share it with anyone and everyone. My family, quite frankly, is first and foremost a robotics family. I am always proud of the work we’ve done to spread FIRST. But I know that there is way more room for Lakeville robotics to grow.
The amazing thing about FIRST is that there is a place for everyone. FIRST has created the most accepting and fun community I can ever say I’ve been a part of. I am who I am because I’ve been on a robotics team. I know what FIRST can do for kids my age, and I know how many students would benefit from competing on a team. In Lakeville, robotics is bigger than ever. But we’re not slowing down!
This blog post was written by Anna Marie Mitchell, alumnus of FLL team 29, Caught in a Brainstorm. If you are interested in blogging for blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.
Earlier this season, FTC team WAGS 6037 co-hosted the 1st Annual G.I.R.L.S. Robotics Camp with another all Girl Scout FTC team Transisters 6934, New Jersey FTC and the Girl Scouts of Jersey Shore. This event was a huge success.
About 30 girls attended this sleepover, in grades 7 through 12. The group was split into small teams with experienced FTC mentors leading the way. Each team was given a set of instructions to build a Jersey Bot and a Tetrix kit of parts. Once the Jersey Bots were assembled the teams competed with a modified FTC game. Later, more complicated challenges were introduced and the teams built attachments using LEGO and Tetrix parts and re-programmed their robots with simple autonomous and tele-op programs. After a few matches, the game became even more challenging and the girls modified and re-program their robots. The weekend included pit decorations, building robots, and team bonding games including relay races, trivia and a campfire with s’mores. The event culminated with very exciting championship matches.
The teams embodied the FIRST core values through friendly competition and exemplified gracious professionalism. They shared ideas for attachments, strategies, and the most effective programming methods. Because many of these girls had never used screws, wrenches, or Tetrix components, this camp also introduced new skills.
Getting young girls involved in STEM is important. With a growing technological industry, it’s important that girls learn about options in STEM such as engineering and computer programming. These girls can embrace science and technology and eventually be the generation that closes the gap between men and women in STEM careers.
FIRST Robotics is a fantastic way to do achieve this goal. Engineering might be an intimidating field to pursue but FIRST Robotics puts us all on a level playing field. When the new challenge is released at the season kickoff, everyone is at the exact same starting point. Classrooms can feel like male dominated environments and girls may choose to not express themselves nor their ideas. Robotics encourages a real-life application of science and math concepts, in a FUN, competitive environment. FIRST not only values engineering techniques, but the learning process along the way with designing, building, programming, planning, community outreach.
Introducing girls to FIRST robotics builds confidence in their interest in science and technology, and encourages them to pursue STEM careers. Our G.I.RL.S. Robotics camp is just one fun way to get girls interested in participating in FIRST but it could make a difference in many lives.
This blog was written by Sanjna Ravichandar of FTC team 6037 and a student at UW Madison. If you are interested in blogging for blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.
Today I spent a ridiculous amount of time on Twitter. Most likely because today FIRST announced this year’s FRC game, FIRST STRONGHOLD! I could probably write a whole second blog with my reactions to the game, but that is not what I’m here for. I mention Twitter, because I spent a lot of time talking with my FIRST friends, discussing our game reactions, and planning when we would all be able to see each other this competition season! It was all so exciting until I fell into an unexpected funk.
As I spent an unhealthy amount of time on Twitter I started feeling really bad about myself. The reason? I wasn’t going to be able to volunteer as much as many of my FIRST friends were. I was being really hard on myself about this, I’ve included a few of the thoughts that had crossed my mind below.
My rookie year on the team, I wanted to try everything. I really wanted to see what all aspects of my team were about. As the season progressed, I found myself really loving what my team called the marketing side of things. It was wonderful, I loved what I was doing! I had a lot of great experiences with this, and also a few that were not so great. I was talking with another girl at a competition, and she was complaining about ‘girls who do marketing’. Which is upsetting for so many reasons but at the time, this girl made me feel really horrible about myself. She was on the programming team. She was breaking stereotypes. She was all of these things that I wasn’t. I was comparing myself to her. How am I going to inspire females to involve themselves in STEM when I was not heavily involved in building the robot? Well, fast forward a little bit and I realized that her and I were not the same person. We were interested in different things, with very different lives! It was awesome that she wanted to program the robot, and it was awesome that I wanted to plan the science camp!
Through my involvement in the marketing team, I was also heavily involved in the Chairman’s Award. I was on a pretty competitive team and I had the challenge/joy/emotional rollercoaster of working heavily on the award for my 3 years on the team. My first year on the team was all about winning. My team had won a large award the year before and the pressure was really on. We did not end up winning that season and we were crushed. Once again, there was a lot of self-blaming. Why hadn’t I been more creative brainstorming ideas to help my team? Why had we not done this or that? I was comparing a rural team of 30 to an urban team of 60 and a rookie team of 10. I was comparing my current team to my team a year ago. I wasn’t understanding what the award was about or valuing the things that we had done for any of the right reasons. Fast forward to my senior year, I’m still heavily involved in the Chairman’s Award. Only this year, I’m not trying to win. I was incredibly happy at the end of my senior year because I wasn’t trying to compare my team to other teams, and I was doing things because I thought they would benefit my team and my community and spread the word of FIRST.
By my senior year, I had made a lot of progress with how I looked at my team and FIRST, but I was still struggling a lot with comparing myself to others. I was looking at colleges and career paths and majors. Being involved in FIRST, many of my friends were from my robotics team and in my mind, 99.99% of them were going to be engineers. I heavily considered it, after all, I owe it to future generations of women to be trailblazer and inspire young girls and unlock the next level of feminism by dominating in a male dominated career field and those were the things I kept telling myself. Until I remembered that I had no desire to become an engineer. I spent a lot of time comparing myself to others because I hadn’t picked engineering as my path. I felt like I was letting the FIRST community who had inspired me so much down. Except I wasn’t. No one else was harshly judging me for not wanting to be an engineer. I didn’t need to be an engineer to achieve my goals of inspiring young women and proudly support all my FIRST Ladies heading off to be amazing engineers!
I am a unique human being. It is okay that I wanted to join the marketing team. I did amazing things for my team and my community. I have found so much joy in pursuing genetics and health and right now I want to do as much good as I can with those things. It’s okay that I’m a full time student who doesn’t have the time or resources to volunteer at every competition. It is also okay that other women in FIRST want to join the mechanical team. It’s amazing that we have people in the FIRST community who can volunteer so much. They are also doing amazing things for their team and community. It’s amazing that there are women breaking down barriers in the engineering field every day. In my opinion, it’s amazing that there are people who can stand calculus enough to get an engineering degree, period.
I know that every FIRST Lady is a fierce warrior who is on her own path to being completely amazing. I know that I’m on my own path to being completely amazing, but sometimes I forget. I like these stories, because they remind me to be kind to myself. They remind me that comparing myself to others is not okay. A cooler thing to do, is to celebrate the accomplishments of my peers and celebrate my own accomplishments too! Let your peers inspire you and use them as resources. Friends with robots are the best friends and also incredibly helpful and knowledgable!
This blog was written by Kayla Smith, alumni of FRC team 1625 and a student at UW Madison. If you are interested in blogging for blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.
Background: optional read
When I was high school, robotics was my passion, it was a cause I could get behind and a mindset I would champion. When I went to college, I was enrolled in the mechanical engineering program at a well known research university. I discovered in my first semester that shockingly, I wanted nothing to do with engineering. I felt like there was a disconnect with what I had been learning in FIRST, I was asking myself, “where is the building, teamwork, and innovation?!” Fortunately, I was able to discover exactly what I was looking for.
You see that object next to you? Yeah, pick it up. Have you ever wondered why that object was the way it was? Why the button was put there or why it’s shaped like that? Well, someone did, and they were most likely a product designer. A product designer not only considers the feasibility and mechanics behind a product, but also the user experience and aesthetic. Right now, this may seem silly, but it’s becoming a BIG deal around the world. In fact, NEA expects employment for product designers to jump to about 29% in the next few years, which is equal to the demand for nurses and computer scientists combined. Plus, a product designer can end up in just about any field, from toys to medical devices, people are creating innovative solutions.
By now, I hope I have your attention. Just like robotics, product design is that perfect blend of engineering, business, and design. It isn’t for everyone, but if you find yourself interested in more than just one component of FIRST, it may be time to consider product design for yourself. If you still don't think product design is like robotics, take a look at a project I made last year for a class called Toy Product Design.
This class gave me the opportunity to explore a variety of software like SolidWorks, the Adobe Suite, and Rhino as well as explore tons of fabrication techniques like a CNC router, plasma cutter, and laser cutter. If I stuck with a traditional engineering degree, I doubt I'd get to experience all of these tools until maybe my senior year, but I'm so happy to say that this is what I get to do every semester until I graduate.
This blog was written by Claudia Dube. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.
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