Last Saturday, the Walton Robotics Team’s new build site contained an unusually high proportion of females-- in fact, every one of the students who spent the day at the build site was a girl. These FIRST ladies were participating in the second ever GirlsFIRST, an event founded by Walton Robotics and supported by GeorgiaFIRST. The inaugural GirlsFIRST event was held in 2013, when over sixty girls from nine FRC teams across Georgia came together in Walton Robotics’ build site to make new friends, complete engineering challenges, listen to inspiring speakers, and brainstorm ideas for the future of GirlsFIRST. Last Saturday’s GirlsFIRST expanded upon last year’s event with a robot scrimmage, speakers, a Q&A panel, and lots of dancing.
This event is the Walton Robotics Team’s solution to a discrepancy in statistics. Though women constitute around fifty percent of the total workforce now, they are deeply underrepresented in engineering fields. GirlsFIRST is designed to empower and teach girls how to fix this problem. To find that others like them share the same passion, to gain the leadership skills necessary to be successful in STEM, to learn how to share their true interests...those are the lessons GirlsFIRST teaches its participants.
Saturday started with scrimmages after breakfast and icebreakers. With only two teams with robots, the girls took turns driving. Teams including Walton Robotics, G3 Robotics, Pope Robotics, Columbus Alliance, and Pisgah Robotics spent the breaks between matches talking to each other: making new friends, strengthening old friendships, and dancing on the field. Lunch was an unhurried affair, followed by Frisbees and then meeting the speakers. Nicole Faulk, the Nuclear Regulatory Affairs Manager at Georgia Power, was the keynote speaker--Jessica Osborn, Amanda Owens, Karen Miller, and Miriam Huppert the panelists. All offered sage advice in getting in and getting ahead in the workforce, from helpful organizational ideas to “having it all.” The event concluded with the introduction of the Outreach-in-a-Box. Members of the Walton team set up boxes with enough material to build 50 slingshot rockets each, and they gave the boxes to the attendee teams. Then, the team challenged them to use the boxes as activities in their own outreach and to expand on the project. Overall, the team felt that GirlsFIRST was a success. There was one attendee who told us she had been dreading the event before she came. At the end, she said, the event had been highly worthwhile; she really enjoyed GirlsFIRST!
We don’t want to just tell you about what happened; we want to share with you our personal experiences at GirlsFIRST.
Sarah (sophomore): This year is my fifth year in involvement with FIRST. For four years, I was a member of team GENIUS, an all-girls team first an FLL and then an FTC team. I learned how to open up to people at last, how to work in a team, and, of course, how robots are made. But what GENIUS offered me that I consider most precious was a family I could trust, a family that I shared the best of times and the worst of times with. Which was why moving on to the Walton FRC team was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. The environment grew in scale, the robots grew in size, and the team grew in number. I wondered if I made the right decision. But planning and attending the GirlsFIRST event helped me overcome that hurdle. I was able to connect to others during that time and feel truly comfortable in my new surroundings. Though I still treasure my time in GENIUS, I know now that the skills I learned then still help me, and though I still have a long way to go before I can be the best I can be, GirlsFIRST helped me realize I can still get there.
Stephanie (senior): One of the things I’ve always noticed about FRC teams is the friendships among teams-- or the lack thereof. Most teams reach out to other ones and try to get to know the students, but not many teams are able to form true friendships; those relationships need more time than short pit visits during competition to grow. GirlsFIRST is changing that for girls on FRC teams. The event allowed girls to truly connect while learning about females in STEM and about each other; we sat in circles and talked about homecoming, tossed frisbees behind the loading dock, and danced to the Cupid Shuffle. Seeing all the other girls open up to each other and getting to be part of that made me realize the true power of us FIRST ladies-- if we work together through events like GirlsFIRST, we can truly change the culture of females in FIRST and in the STEM workforce.
GirlsFIRST is not just about the teams who participated on Saturday-- far from it. In fact, we want girls from all teams of all levels to get involved in changing the landscape of STEM for females. That’s why we created Outreach-in-a-Box, an outreach kit designed to target female students with enough material to build 50 slingshot rocket projects. We invite teams to use Outreach-in-a-Box to reach out to young girls and document events-- in fact, our team is hosting a Twitter competition for Most Inspiring Outreach-in-a-Box photo and caption. The winner gets GirlsFIRST rockets for all the girls on their team! To find out how you can get a box and enter to contest, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
GirlsFIRST has so much room to grow and expand, and we want input from girls on all different teams. Possibilities include hosting events for FTC and FLL girls and allowing the girls from Boys and Girls Clubs to host events of their own. If you’re interested in getting involved in GirlsFIRST or even being a part of our steering committee, please contact email@example.com.
This blog post was written by Stephanie Niu and Sarah Tsai of FRC Team Walton Robotics. If you are interested in writing a blog post for FIRST Ladies, reserve your spot on the schedule.
When I was growing up I wanted to be a princess. I dreamed of big castles and sparkly dresses but over the years, FIRST taught me that I don’t need to find a prince charming because I am already the queen.
All throughout elementary and middle school I was a shy kid. I stuck to what I knew, which was basically musical theatre and the color pink. I did theatre, played dress up, and lead the typical “girly girl” life. However, when I joined robotics my Freshman year of high school I did not expect my life to change as drastically as it did. I went from never speaking out to speaking for a whole team. From thinking that I belonged in the background of a musical to knowing that my place was in the shop with my team. FIRST taught me how to be a leader and that is something I want to help girls around the world to release too.
I joined robotics by accident. A few guys in my engineering class invited me to come to a meeting and so after rehearsal one day I decided to come down and check it out. I was terrified. All of these boys surrounding this tower looking robot trying to shoot basketballs into reflective hoops. I felt like I would never belong there. That is, until the team coach stepped up and introduced himself. He seemed so excited that I had come down to their shop. He and the boys from my class explained the game and their robot design to me. I felt included immediately and started to think that maybe robotics was for me. I decided to come to the next meeting and they quickly put me to work, sorting screws. Not the most glamorous job but hey, everyone needs to start somewhere. I ended up joining the team, coming to more meetings, and really feeling part of the team. At regionals that year, the guys from my class even let me be on drive team and it was in that moment, standing behind the plexiglass, that I knew I belonged.
These days I am the head captain of my robotics team. I speak at all of our outreach events and team meetings, and there is no way I could have done that without FIRST. FIRST is indeed more than learning how to build robots, its learning how to lead. I always had the power to take charge and lead a team but robotics is what drew those skills out of me. Bit by bit I took more charge on the team from speaking my opinions, to designing t-shirts, to managing the team. It is because of the welcoming and encouragement I received at that first meeting that I gained confidence in myself. These people trusted me and wanted me to be a part of their team, they let me help to build the robot and that is a gesture I will never forget. I wanted to write this post to encourage FIRST teams everywhere to continue to inspire leaders. You can achieve this by simply, being inclusive. A kids life can dramatically change because of small opportunities of leadership and feeling included on a team. I was the only girl on my team for awhile but my teammates treated me equally. Just because I mainly do marketing and outreach for my team doesn't mean I am clueless about the engineering aspect. It also doesn't mean I am of any less value to the team. Through being a leader on my team I have gained confidence in myself and I know that I can conquer any challenge that comes my way and that I am an important and strong individual.
This will sadly be my last year as a FRC student however I will never stop executing FIRST values. FIRST provided me with a unique environment where I felt welcome and encouraged and I want to carry the essence of FIRST wherever I may go. With the skills FIRST taught me, I know I can do anything I set my mind to.
This blog post was written by Natalie Hedberg. If you are interested in writing a blog post for FIRST Ladies, sign up here.
On October 10th 2014, President Barack Obama joined the movement and proclaimed October 11th as International Day of the Girl in the United States. In his proclamation he states; "On International Day of the Girl, we stand with girls, women, and male and female advocates in every country who are calling for freedom and justice, and we renew our commitment to build a world where all girls feel safe, supported, and encouraged to pursue their own measure of happiness.in an effort to promote gender equality and lift the status of girls and women around the world." To view the rest of his official proclamation, click here.
Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani female education activist who became the youngest ever Nobel Prise recipient in any category at age 17. In October 2012, Malala was shot in the head as she was boarding her school bus by the Taliban. She has since made a full recovery and was featured as one of Time's "100 Most Influential People in the World" in 2013. Her courage to stand up for what she has believed in has inspired many, including myself, to seek gender equality. I highly encourage everyone to watch Malala Yousafzai's Nobel prize speech.
"The Day of the Girl Summit brings girls and girl-serving organizations together to celebrate the International Day of the Girl. The Summit has become a movement; a year-long, action-oriented virtual platform for change makers to leverage community resources in support the advancement of girls’ human rights. This year, thousands more of girls, boys, adults, teachers, leaders, politicians and hundreds more of organizations, will show their support for the celebration of the unique and special role girls play in the world." - dayofthegirlsummit.org
"Girl Up is a campaign of the United Nations Foundation created to give American girls the opportunity to become global leaders and channel their energy and compassion to raise awareness and funds for United Nations programs that help some of the world’s hardest-to-reach adolescent girls" - girlup.org. Click here to watch their YouTube video "Girl Up and you!"
"Girl Rising is a global campaign for girls’ education.We use the power of storytelling to share the simple truth that educating girls can transform societies. Girl Rising unites girls, women, boys and men who believe every girl has the right to go to school and the right to reach her full potential." - girlrising.com. Watch the inspiring Girl Rising Trailer here (it brought me to tears).
Journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn took on the fight to end the oppression of women and girls worldwide in 2009 with their acclaimed best-selling book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Inspired by Kristof and WuDunn’s work, the organization also entitled Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide — was created to work on amplifying the book’s impact. Ignited by a high-profile national television event and fueled by innovative multi-platform initiatives, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is galvanizing even more people to join the burgeoning movement for change." - halftheskymovement.org. Watch the Half the Sky Trailer here.
"HeForShe is a solidarity movement for gender equality developed by UN Women to engage men and boys as advocates and agents of change for the achievement of gender equality and women’s rights. The campaign encourages them to speak out and take action against inequalities faced by women and girls." - HeforShe.org. For more information about how you can become part of the movement, click here for the He for She Action Kit.
Greetings, FIRST Ladies! Happy October!
Rachel asked me if I’d write about my personal FIRST experience for the blog – and I’m more than happy to! I will try my hardest to keep it to the TL;DR version, because I’m not sure how well 22-and-some-change years of FIRSTer life is going to translate into text. So let’s start from the beginning.
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Libby Kamen. (Yes, that Kamen. Dean is my uncle.) My father, Dean’s big brother, was a big part of a lot of DEKA’s big projects – for example, the wearable insulin pump was originally designed for my father’s oncology patients! Their medical & technical knowledge always wove together on different endeavors, so I grew up around technology and science, even before I knew much about it.
I got to see much of DEKA’s growth up close, into the iBot wheelchair, the Segway technology, and now the Slingshot water purification system. In fact, as DEKA was developing the technology for the iBot, I was learning to walk – and as a result, a lot of my early struggles with movement are on video, so the DEKA engineers could study the development of walking, standing, and balance.
When FIRST began its competitions in 1992, my family was there – all of us. Dean’s parents, siblings, and … me. I’m the only one of my generation in the Kamen family. (No pressure, right?). From the very first Maize Craze event in New Hampshire as a baby, through this year’s Championship, I have never missed a year of FIRST. Once I got to around age 6 or 7, I was allowed to start doing field reset at competitions (which was awesome, but take note – all volunteers must be 12+ as of a few years ago!)
My family also went to events all over our region just to visit – even if we weren’t volunteering, my father would throw the Segways in the car and we’d go just to ‘be around the teams’. I soon learned this would be my duty, whether I liked it or not. Fortunately for me, I absolutely love going to events and interacting with teams and volunteers, even when it’s not in my own region. This community is so welcoming that every event feels like home to me, and it’s absolutely fantastic.
As I got old enough to volunteer ‘on my own’ (as in, without a parent constantly over my shoulder), I’d wander around competitions by myself and just talk to teams. Since I was a younger student, teams were more than happy to explain their robots to me. I quickly fell in love with robotics – it wasn’t just my family’s thing anymore, it was mine. By the time I got to high school, it was apparent that I needed to do this FRC thing for myself. So I started Team 1923, The MidKnight Inventors. (At least, that’s our name now. We went through a bit of a re-branding in 2008.) I had the full support of my family – after all, it was FIRST! – and the team was born.
The team started off small – myself, as a freshman, and a handful of upperclassmen. I recruited one of my friends, because I didn’t feel like being the only girl in a room full of boys. (Katie is still a proud FIRST alum & volunteer – and we brought her sister into it, too! But that’s a story for another day.) The upperclassmen soon figured out that I wasn’t kidding around about running this team, and I remained captain of the team through four years of struggling to gain our footing in the school district.
In 2009, the team grew from the original 4 to a whopping 24, and we won our first regional. That was the year we finally locked down our build & strategy process, rather than just floundering all build season, and it totally paid off. As I left for college I knew they’d be able to maintain the program, and I promised them I’d never be far.
It took about two weeks for them to miss me & ask for my help, and I was proud to give it. I maintained an advisory mentor role from a distance as I attended Clarkson University (about 8.5 hours away by car), and attended their events when I could. For the most part, my job was about consulting & guiding our new school-district advisor, and making sure the process I’d put in place stayed. Now that I’m closer to home, I’ve returned to being a full-blown mentor who drives back and forth as often as humanly possible just to be with the team, having my hands in a little bit of everything from Mechanical to Strategy to Media & PR, as well as general team administration.
During my time at Clarkson, I worked with the FIRST program there as well. I loved getting a different perspective on how a team might run, and interacting with alumni from other regions. FIRST is celebrated at Clarkson, with FIRST alumni dorms and college credit for mentoring – it became a real melting pot for students from different teams & regions to come together and share their ideas. 229 was run by a lot of the best practices we’ve learned from each other, and I definitely still carry those lessons with me.
I began college as a Mechanical Engineering student, but like some of the other bloggers you’ve read from so far, I had my passions elsewhere too. After trying a few internships, I decided to combine everything I love together into one degree – so I finished Clarkson with my BS in Communications & Media, with a concentration in Engineering Technology. It’s a little bit confusing, from the outside but I got to take my first two years of engineering curriculum and help translate technical concepts through media & writing. My adviser called me ‘the translator’.
I loved my time at Clarkson, and I miss it dearly. Being a mentor instead of just a student-who-was-leading absolutely changed my perspective on a lot of things – mentoring is just as fun as participating, plus about seventeen million times more responsibility. I highly recommend it, because you get just as much out of it as you put in.
Throughout high school & college, I continued to visit events and volunteer. It was at this point that I also started growing into my ‘other job’ – representing FIRST and my family. That has been absolutely amazing, because it’s afforded me the chance to travel, meet teams and volunteers from all over the place, and really get a sense for how the community is feeling. Every single season is a chance to see friends from all over the world and to make new ones, and for that I’m insanely thankful. I am always an open book, and I sincerely hope that if you've seen this post and haven’t struck up a conversation with me yet, you’ll do so – either online or at an event!
I’m now pursuing a Master’s degree in Marketing & Technological Innovation – so, essentially the same deal. I’m also just beginning a job where I get to do – you guessed it! FIRST stuff. I’ll be working with United Therapeutics to sponsor & mentor teams, as well as connect its employees with volunteering opportunities. I look forward to getting to use my experience with FIRST and its community to help better serve the teams around UniTher’s offices, and to make the events we attend as volunteers that much more fun. And, as always, I’ll be a MidKnight Inventor for 2015.
Thank you so much for having me, and I hope I haven’t bored you too much. See you all this season!
This blog post was written by one of our alumni partners - Libby Kamen. To find out more about her - check out our FIRST Ladies Partners page! If you want to write a blog post for FIRST Ladies, get your spot on the schedule now! Click here to pick a date.
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