In school, I’m that kid in math class that never raises her hand. I like to sit in the back of the class, keep to myself, and learn through listening. But then school ends, robotics practice begins, and I no longer have a choice. Questions become necessary.
There’s this thing that happens with teenage girls, where at some point during puberty, we stop asking questions. It’s this feeling that asking is equivalent to admitting fault---that not knowing something, or getting confused, means that you’re not smart enough. Or even that raising your hand is like opening yourself up to the possibility of being wrong. Questions feel like uncomfortable vulnerability.
But here’s the thing: questions are important. Especially outside of math class, when there aren’t any perfect right or wrong answers. In robotics, there often isn’t any one best decision, or one best way of decision making. Everything we do is a calculated trade-off through planning, prototyping, testing, and redesigning. Unlike math class, there isn’t a khan academy of tried and true postulates for how to make your robotics season work. This is where asking questions becomes important. You can’t just google the optimal bot for the year’s challenge. The cool thing about FIRST is that every team chooses to solve challenges in a different way, but the hard thing about FIRST is that there is no one “best robot.” Every person you meet will have a different idea of what ideal should be. By asking about differing perspectives on the same task, you make it easier to think creatively, brainstorm, and think critically about your own perspectives.
So, while it’s important to ask questions in order to get multiple perspectives on the same challenge, asking questions can also grant you access to the combined gazillion years of experience of competitors just like you.
I’ve found the most gratification in robotics through the connections I’ve made. FIRSTies are incredible friends, and incredible resources. In FIRST, there is always someone willing to lend a hand if you need help. FIRST is a wealth of knowledge just waiting to be tapped. And all it takes to do so is to start asking questions.
Every FIRST team has its strengths and weaknesses. But one of the best ways to make your weaknesses into your strengths is to get direction from teams that excel in your weakest areas. My team has done this, and it has been an incredible way for us to share our FIRST experience with another team and let them share in return.
My team’s weakest area is in the mechanical stuff. We are great at promoting our team, and talking up FIRST in our community, but when it came to building a robot for this season---we didn’t know where to start. This is where our friends in FIRST came in. We met so many experienced teams during our regional tournaments, and befriended some really cool people along the way. And then, when it came time for us to redesign our robot, we called on our fellow FIRSTies for help. We were able to ask questions of people who had spent a much longer time in FIRST than we had. Instead of bumbling our way through a season by ourselves, my team chose to ask questions and make connections---and it has made all the difference.
Although it can sometimes be awkward and uncomfortable to approach someone with a question, it’s all worthwhile. Because asking questions of the people around you isn’t admitting some lack of knowledge, but it is admitting your curiosity and drive.
Anna Marie Mitchell
FTC #11872 Visible Spectrum
Hi everyone! My name is Addie. I’m an 12th grader, and the General Manager on the SOTAbots, FRC Team 2557 from Tacoma, WA. In my (over) three years of experience on the SOTAbots, I’ve noticed that girls are not represented in the FRC program as they are in the general population. In 2016, I could not find any data to track the amount of girls that participate in FRC, so I created a project to find and report those statistics. I crafted an anonymous survey to measure female member and mentor involvement on teams and in their sub-teams for the 2016 season. In addition, the survey asked for qualitative data on the tools that teams use to recruit and sustain female members. The survey was sent to 158 FRC teams in the Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon, and Alaska), and 56 teams responded (over one-third). Here are my findings.
Overall, the PNW FRC community has an average of 30% girl participation on teams (see Figure 1). Of that 30%, there is one all-girls teams represented, one team with 50% girls, and two teams with 0% girls. The rest of the teams reported having less than 50% of girls on their team, which is a huge indicator that the FRC community is lacking in female representation. Figure 2 shows the frequency of team sizes, while Figure 3 shows the frequency of the number of girls that are on those teams. The former shows that the mean team size is 26 members, and the latter shows the mean number of girls on teams as 8 girls. These demographics show that there is work to do in order for the percent of girls on FRC teams to reflect the general demographics.
It’s important to note that the percent of female members and mentors on teams were not significantly different when the teams were compared in size. These statistics held true regardless of whether a team was made up of more than 20 members, or less than 20.
The survey also asked for a subteam breakdown to find the representation of girls in different sub-teams. Girls are particularly underrepresented in Build (25%), Programing (20%), and Drive (24%) subteams (see Figure 4). The Drive sub-team is an important statistic because it usually included four team members in the 2016 STRONGHOLD season. The average percent of girls on the Drive subteam was less than one-fourth, which means that on average, there was less than one girl driver per drive team. The survey also found that girls were very underrepresented in the Build and Programming sub-teams, which suggests that even when girls are on FRC teams, they are not well represented in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). In comparison, girls are less underrepresented in Fundraising (35%), Media (40%), Outreach (37%), and Leadership (35%) sub-teams.
Let’s talk about mentors. The average percent of female mentors on teams is 21%. As seen in Figure 5, there are 14 teams with zero female mentors. While there is one team with 60% female mentors, there are no teams with any more than that 60%. Figure 6 shows that the mean number of total mentors on a team is about 7, while Figure 7 shows that the mean number of female mentors on a team is about 1.7.
The survey results did not show the percent of female mentors to be correlated with the percent of total girls on the team (see Figure 8). On one hand, this could be because there are not enough female mentors on the team to bring in more girls. On the other hand, this could mean that using resources to increase the number and percent of female mentors as a means to bring in more girls may not make an impact.
Let’s get into the programming stats a little more. Interestingly, on the programming subteam, the number of female mentors on the team as a whole and in the programming subteam both correlate with a high percentage of girls on the programming subteam. On the general team, Figure 9 shows that having three or more female mentors on the team significantly increases the percent of girls on the programming subteam.
More specifically, teams with a female programming mentor had a significantly higher percent of girls on the programming subteam. As seen in Figure 10, 48 of the teams surveyed did not have a female programming mentor, and those teams had an average of 17% girl programmers on that subteam. However, on the teams that did have a female programming mentor, girls made up 49% girls of the programing subteam. That’s almost half! This is where my research suggests a way to recruit more girls into STEM fields: a programming mentor increases the percent of girls on the programming subteam. This is important because often, veteran girls on a subteam like programming could bring in rookie members, but this model is not sustainable if there are none of few girls on that subteam. However, a female programming mentor could jumpstart the culture of having girl programmers, further equalizing the gender demographics in programming subteams.
To find more tools, I evaluated the qualitative data that identified the tools that teams used to recruit and sustain girls (see Table 1). I divided qualitative data separately into 30 teams with 30% girls on the teams or more, and the 36 teams with less that 30% girls on the teams. The teams with a the higher percentile of girls and the lower percentile of girls both reported using word of mouth and outreach to classrooms to recruit more girls. These tools certainly do not hurt, but they are not shown to be impactful techniques in recruiting a higher percent of girls. The tools used more often by teams with a higher percentile of girls include having girl leaders as role-models, attending the Girls Gen competition, and having bonding activities to sustain the girls on their team. These trends suggest that participating in these activities increases the percent of girls on an FRC team. However, it is important to note that these tools come from teams with less than 50% girls on them, so the success rate of these tools is still unclear.
In conclusion, I believe there is a lot of work that needs to happen to increase female involvement in the FRC community, especially in programming, build, and drive subteams. Also, to have more than 50% girls on a team should become a commonplace phenomenon. Girls are just as competent as everyone else, but there is male dominance in STEM fields that clearly exists right now. Having a female programming mentor on a team could be a solution to get more girls involved in STEM fields through programming. As one of the teams that was surveyed wrote, “If you see [a girl] standing there, put a tool in her hand and show her how to use it. She will not disappoint.” So please, be intentional -- reach out to female programmers who could become a mentor, bring girls into FRC teams, and embrace the idea that someday, your team could be made up of more than 50% girls.
Thank you so much for reading! If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
Hello! We are excited to announce the new FIRST Ladies directors, Selina Woo and Anna Marie Mitchell!
First of all, thank you so much to Rachel Hunter and the Patronum Bot family for the existence and establishment of this wonderful organization!
‘Sup! My name is Selina Woo, and I’m super excited to help out with FIRST Ladies this year! A little bit about myself- ever since Anna Marie dragged me into FLL in 7th grade, I’ve been an avid FIRST fan. Robotics changed my life and I will forever treasure the experiences, and the friendships that I’ve made. My favorite part about FIRST is how welcoming and awesome the community is. It’s absolutely incredible that teams who are competing will help and cheer each other on! On Visible Spectrum (our FTC team), I mainly work on the technical part, like building, programming, and CADing our robot, but I also love helping out with outreach whenever needed. Though it may seem like robotics is my life, I also try to make time for other things too (sleep not included), like being an officer in our school’s Key Club, HOSA chapter, and volunteering in NHS (National Honor Society). Some of my hobbies are traveling (that’s a story for another day), snuggling up with a good book, and playing my flute.
Thanks to FIRST Ladies, I’ve been able to meet so many cool people! During the 2015 World Championships, when my teammates and I went around pits, to sign people up for FIRST Ladies, I met so many memorable people---a few that I still keep in contact today. (Shoutout to my buddy in Philippines, Jessica, for tolerating my late night chats, rants, and fangirling over robots with me.) FIRST Ladies really inspired me, and gave me the opportunity to really come out of my shell, so I hope to help more people get the wonderful experience that I got!
About Anna Marie:
Hey-o! I’m Anna Marie Mitchell, and I’m more excited about growing FIRST Ladies than I have been about most things. Some more about me: I’ve been in and around FIRST since I was 8 years old. My experience in FIRST started out oddly; my sister joined a team and I became their team’s unofficial person-inside-the-mascot-costume. So my first few years of experience in FIRST was limited to dancing around in Fish in the Boat’s lime green piranha costume at FTC tournaments. (One of my greatest claims to fame is doing the Gangnam Style dance on the FTC performance area of the 2014 FIRST World Championships.) From then on, I was hooked. On Selina and my current FTC team Visible Spectrum, I work mainly on the Engineering Notebook, the website, and the team’s branding materials. Although my family’s life revolves around robotics, I occasionally do some other stuff too...sometimes. I am involved in marching band playing the French Horn, in National Honor Society, in French Club, I work as a barista, and I stress about AP Classes. Whenever I have free time, I like watching PBS with my family, spending time with my friends, and filling my time with outreach events.
My favorite parts of FIRST have always been the relationships. My robot friends are the best friends I’ve ever had, and I’ve managed to get all of my non-robot friends onto robotics teams! I love how FIRST teaches teams the value of working together---when you help other teams become more competitive, it helps your team do the same. Robotics is special to me because, unlike in most sports, teams that compete in one match have to work together in the next. I’m excited to help direct FIRST Ladies because of the valuable bonds that FIRST Ladies is creating between women in STEM and girls like me on robotics teams. I’m looking forward to Selina's and my time as Directors, and to the opportunities we can extend to kids like us through FIRST Ladies.
Their Shared Experience in FIRST:
Selina and Anna Marie have both been on FIRST teams since they were in 7th grade. Starting in 7th grade, they were a part of Lakeville, MN FLL team Caught in a Brainstorm. After their team members aged out of FLL in their freshman year of high school, Selina and Anna Marie joined FTC team Polar Vortex. In their sophomore year of high school, they jumped teams one last time and formed FTC team 11872 Visible Spectrum within their Lakeville North High School. Both of them, now juniors in high school, are going into their 5th year competing in FIRST. They have been involved with FIRST Ladies since its founding, when their FLL team helped to represent FIRST Ladies at the 2015 World Championships (see pic below). Selina and Anna Marie have been working together for most of their middle and high school lives. Starting in 7th grade when they founded and operated a small business as business partners, to programming together in FLL, to taking over direction of FIRST Ladies this year, Selina and Anna Marie have always wound up with each other and are better for it.
For the past year or so, you may have noticed that FIRST Ladies has been relatively inactive. We have some amazing partners around the world who have been keeping up on events and promoting girls in STEM wherever they can, but as a community not much has been going on. This blog is intended to help you understand why, and hear about our plan moving forward!
My name is Rachel Hunter, and I was part of the FTC team, The Patronum Bots, who founded this organization back in 2014. Originally, this community came about because myself and the four other girls on my team decided that this was something the FIRST community needed. When my team stop competing in 2015, I took on the responsibility of running an amazing, ever-growing community of girls and women from all over the world. I have met some truly exceptional people throughout my time as Director of FIRST Ladies, and there is nothing I would change about that experience.
When I graduated from high school, I had every intention to maintain a high level of involvement with FIRST Ladies. The idea of giving up control of something that myself, my family, and my team worked so hard on was inconceivable. Anyone who has ever gone to college can probably tell you that it gets pretty overwhelming pretty fast. One missed blog post turned into five, which turned into infrequent email replies, and an overall slowing of the progress we had made.
I could not be more proud of all I was able to accomplish as the leader of this community. I have seen so many girls come together and support each other, and at the end of the day that was the only goal FIRST Ladies ever had. We all accomplished this together.
Anyone who knows me knows that FIRST Ladies is my life. Hands down, running this community is the greatest thing I have ever accomplished. The thought of stepping down as director has weighed heavy on my heart for over a year now, due to the fact that I have put so much of myself into this community. However, I have asked two extraordinarily talented and compassionate ladies to take my place.
Anna Marie Mitchell and Selina Woo of FTC Team 11872, Visible Spectrum, will be taking over as Directors of FIRST Ladies. I have complete confidence that they will approach this new challenge with excitement, and I cannot wait to see what they do next!
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