During a recent drive to work, I listened to an NPR broadcast of an interview with Michelle Obama. The interviewer asked her “Do you have any regrets?” I was a bit surprised at the former first lady’s response: “yes”. When she continued (and I’m paraphrasing here) “I regret that I didn’t find my voice when I was younger. That I spent time in awe of the people who were sitting at the table, thinking that they knew so much more than me. But when I arrived at the big table, I found that the others really didn’t know anything more than I did. So, I regret that I didn’t put my ideas out there when I was younger.”
I think that what Michelle Obama was saying was that she regrets not being more of a leader earlier in her life. As John Maxwell (1) defines it: “Leadership is Influence. Nothing more, and nothing less.” So how do you come to have influence? I think there are 3 simple guidelines for this.
This blog was written by Joyce Witowski, mentor of FRC team 2468. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.
Joyce Witowski has over 30 years of experience as an engineer and leader in the area of semiconductor manufacturing technology. She has held a variety of technical and leadership positions at Intel, General Electric, KLA-Tencor and NXP, spanning process engineering and operations, applications engineering, sales, procurement and quality. She is currently the Director of front-end quality at NXP Semiconductor in Austin, Texas. Joyce holds a BA in Chemistry from Washington and Jefferson College and an MS in Chemical Engineering from Clarkson University. She has been a mentor for FRC team 2468 for the past 9 years, focusing mostly on project management and outreach.
Typically choosing to surround myself with those who identify as “progressive individuals”, the most sexism I had faced was from teenage boys attempting to find refuge behind the light of their computer screens while throwing verbal attacks in my direction out of envy of my personal successes.
To say that choosing to participate in FIRST Tech Challenge has been one the best decisions I have ever made would be an understatement. Because of the program, I have identified a deep passion for engineering and computer science, I have something to concentrate on and look forward to, and I have made lasting connections with students and professionals across the United States.
Encountering small tufts of sexism too, has been a blessing; even if it is one that has been disguised. Being the co-captain of an all-girls team, and a social one that too, I have encountered quite a few of these tufts.
No matter how much we attempt to drill the idea of Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition into FIRST students, there will still be quiet sexist exchanges that can only be dug out from the memories of those tied into some of the tightest social circles in the FIRST Tech Challenge. Social circles that unravel themselves as an onion would—with those most passionate, successful, and social at the center, and those progressively less so with each layer of the onion.
This past season, I had unknowingly worked my way towards the center of this social onion. Here, I was tagged as one of the more “chill” girls out the of the few girls that were in this odd circle. The closer I got towards the center, I would realize later on, the more acceptable sexist remarks became. After further inspection, I came to a realization that most students were against these remarks, but would say nothing in fear of being marked as “uncool”, and losing their position in the group. Classic.
The number of boys I ran into who clung onto the idea that my team (and other all-girls teams) won awards and advanced solely because of the fact that we are an all-girls team is ludicrous. Oftentimes, they would neglect the fact that we had put in hundreds of hours into perfecting our team’s work (just as they had with their own teams), and would claim that our gender immediately secured awards for the team.
One would expect that after 0 all-girls teams from New Jersey moved onto East Super Regionals the barrage of sexist one-liners would ultimately cease. Instead, a handful of unrelenting boys moved onto more personal attacks. A team once called me out of the blue, and members took turns insulting my work, my team’s advancement status, and even my relationship status. It was especially unsettling because this was a team that we had once worked with very closely. One member (whom I had never even met) went so far as to Direct Message me and make disparaging comments on my intelligence, and my team members’ mental capacities.
It is important, dear FIRST friends, to remain nonchalant in situations like these, and refuse to swoop down to their level and attack them in return. One must hide the frustration and hurt as refraining from doing so will only encourage the oppressor.
It is interesting to note that all these occurrences took place online. Perhaps it is their fear of judges lurking in the shadows, or maybe it is because their confidence suddenly wavers when they can see the faces of those who they are hurting; whatever it is, no one has attempted to make such disgusting comments towards my teammates to our faces at competitions.
It was almost comical that these boys were so bothered by our success that they had dedicated so much time to attempt to stop us. The thought process behind this, however, needs to be brought to the light: being discredited for one’s own work is the daily reality for far too many women in STEM fields. Although these are merely small acts of sexism, and nothing like the growing number of cases of women being sexually harassed in the workplace, it must be addressed. We must extinguish even the smallest of flames as they always have the potential to grow into large, uncontrollable fires.
This blog was written by Aparna Rajesh of FTC team 11306 Prototype G. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.
As a middle school student in a program dedicated to the Humanities and Communications and comprised of around 90% girls, I believed my obligatory future lay in the liberal arts. Despite my gradually growing passions for mathematics and the sciences, I suppressed my interests in school projects to walk a path similar to that of other girls who loved film and media. By the end of my first quarter in middle school, I had essentially deluded myself in the belief that I needed to precisely mirror others in my grade.
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.
Competing on robotics teams is impossible without funding. Robotics is an expensive sport, and fundraising allows teams to do what they do! This being said, the process of fundraising can be difficult to start and to continue. So here are some tips on how to start and what to look for when finding and recruiting sponsors
Sponsors are individuals or organizations that provide funding or other resources to teams. Sponsorships differ from fundraisers in that sponsor relationships are meant to last throughout a season and multiple seasons if you’re lucky! Unlike fundraisers, sponsorships are also meant to be reciprocal. There are four big steps to obtaining sponsorship: setting groundwork, identifying potential sponsors, reaching out to sponsors, and maintaining sponsor relationships.
The first thing teams should be doing is documenting what needs their season will entail. Creating a projected budget for your upcoming season is a great way to start (see previous blog for details on preliminary budgeting). But needs of teams aren’t exclusively financial. When looking for sponsors, it is important to recognize that sponsors can do more than provide financial support. Sponsors are also great sources for materials, mentorship, and services.
This all plays into the groundwork your team should be doing. When looking at the needs of your team, look at things your team can be sponsored for instead of buying yourself. Teams spend a lot of money on branding materials, team shirts, and printing a new engineering notebook every single year. These are needs too!
Another great way to start a season is by writing a business plan. Optimally, business plans should be a great house for your early budgets. They are a great tool when setting short term and long term goals, looking at your team’s strengths and weaknesses, creating a mission statement to outline what motivates your team, and documenting budgets and expenses. Business plans help to make your team seem professional and organized, and are impressive to companies that will have business plans of their own.
Sponsorship letters are similar, but more condensed. Letters should be only one page, and include brief team history, financial needs, what FIRST is, and contact information. Having all of this written beforehand will come in handy later...
But before any money comes into your team, there needs to be a plan for how money will be funneled. Does your team have a bank account? Is money run through your school? Are donations to your team tax deductible? The worst thing would be to receive money but have nowhere for it to go.
Identifying Potential Sponsors:
Once your team is fully ready, budget and business plan in hand, now is the time to find companies or individuals that may be able to sponsor your team.
As earlier mentioned, don’t limit your focus to just monetary sponsorship. There is a world of experts and resources that are willing to help out teams if teams find them. This is to say, don’t narrow your focus to companies who could give you money. Find companies and individuals who also specialize in things you need done: printing, machining, 3D printing, plastic work, etc. A great example is finding a printing sponsor willing to make business cards, posters, and print new versions of an engineering notebook before tournaments. Or finding local manufacturing companies that are willing to cut sheet metal or plastic.
When finding companies, start by looking at parent companies and companies that are already aware of FIRST. The businesses team member parents work for are often a great place to start. Your team already has a connection, and parents will know who the right person to talk to is for sponsorship. From there, look at companies that sponsor other teams. Some bigger businesses sponsor multiple teams, already know the values of FIRST, and are committed to supporting teams in their communities.
From there, start a giant list! List all of the STEM companies in your city, all of the companies who might be able to provide you with something other than money, and anyone (like a local chamber of commerce) that might be able to get you in contact with companies you might not have been aware of. The bigger the list--the better!
Reaching out to Sponsors:
Here is where all of your groundwork documents come into play. With your giant list of potential companies, start writing down contact info for each. Now is where you can start emailing your sponsorship letter around.
But what has been most valuable is making phone calls…….dun dun DUHHHH. Calling to ask for sponsorship or to set up a time to talk to someone about sponsorship is terrifying. Again, some preparation is needed before picking up the phone. Cold calling scripts should include your name, your team’s name, where you are from, what you are looking to do, a phone number to call you back, and if you’re setting up a meeting over the phone, include dates that would work for your team. The important thing about these scripts is to keep them concise. You don’t want to lose the attention of the person on the other end. Here’s an example:
Hi, I’m ______ from FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Team from _______ High School, we’re fundraising for our season. I was wondering if we could come in and give a sponsorship presentation for your company.
+Wait for response+
Great! Does sometime next week work after 4?
Note how this script asks to set up a presentation. If at all possible, set up face to face presentations for important individuals within a company. Your team is a lot harder to ignore when you are in front of someone talking to them. Here are some tips for scheduling sponsorship presentations:
Maintaining Sponsor Relationships:
Sponsors are most valuable when they continue to support your team over multiple seasons. The brunt work of making this happen is on your team. Sponsorships are more than fundraisers and donations in that they are also intended to go both ways! Teams should be providing for sponsors in the same way sponsors provide for them. A lot of teams do this by plastering sponsor names and logos on their robots, shirts, websites, pit areas, and pretty much everywhere. This is a great start, but there is more that you can do to keep up with your sponsors and keep them engaged in your team!
First of all, send thank you notes! Handwritten thank you’s go a really long way, especially after presenting to a company and you are fresh in their mind. Send thank you notes early and often!!!
Secondly, focus on updating your sponsors with your team’s progress and how you are utilizing their support. My team sends monthly newsletters, and updates before and after every single tournament. It is also nice to invite sponsors to come watch your team at competitions (again, handwritten is best)!
Thirdly, offer to demo for your sponsors! It’s another great way to keep your sponsors in the loop as your team and your team’s robot changes throughout a season.
With these tips, your team is all set to hit the ground running for the upcoming season!
This blog was written by anonymous. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.
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