“Robotics is love. Robotics is life. Robotics is bae.” Is one of the things I used to describe robotics to our incoming new team members last month. Robotics has effected my life in so many different ways, but one of the biggest is the new friends I have. I have friends all over the U.S because of robotics. However possibly one of the greatest friendships I have is with a girl on team 876.
In 2011 teams 2512, 876, and 3747 were aligned together at the Lake Superior Regional. These teams worked together winning the regional and advancing to worlds. This was the first time team 2512 had gone to worlds. Since then, team 2512 and 876, have formed an unbreakable bond between their teams as a whole and even between individual team members.
During the summer my team (2512) attends a lot community outreach events, almost one every week. We were at this three day event called Sidewalk Days, where various venders sell things on a long strip of sidewalk, when a girl approached us, asked a few questions, and then told us who she was. Her name was Morgan from team 876. We talked for about an hour or so, and then she had to go. I thought it was so cool to meet a fellow FIRSTer outside of an official robotics event. I had no idea that such an amazing friendship could form from such a coincidental encounter.
About a week later I had found her instagram because of the fabulous omgrobots hashtag*. We ended up talking more, and that was the real start of our friendship.
We were reunited in August, at the offseason event my team hosted. They only had two girls on their team come, so they stayed the night at my house. We stayed up until 2 a.m just talking to each other, it was like we were friends that had never been separated. The competition included us being on our team’s drive teams, sitting in the stands chilling together, dancing, and overall us having really good time together.
The last offseason event in Minnesota was held November, 22 hosted by team 2169, and both my team and team 876 attended. So, Morgan and I got to see eachother again! We got there a little late in the morning, I was in our pits helping unpack when she came up behind me and started talking to me. I was so happy to see my friend who I hadn’t seen since August! We ended up spending the majority of the day together, goofing off, and having a good time human playing together.
It is truly amazing that we live in different states, but still have such good of friendship. Robotics has not only taught me how to build a robot but it has done so much more for me. Because of robotics I have met amazing people that I otherwise wouldn’t have known. One of the coolest things about FIRST is meeting fellow FIRSTers, not only learning about how other teams work, but also just making a new friend somewhere else. I’ve really expanded my horizons because of this, I’ve learned a lot more about teams, and I’ve found some of my best friends through FIRST.
* #omgrobots is a great way to meet other FIRSTers, I’ve found some of my best friends using it. So, if you are looking to see other robot posts, or meet someone new I would suggest using it.
This blog was written by Claira from FRC 2512, The Duluth East Daredevils. If you are interested in writing a blog, sign up on the schedule.
Perhaps one of the biggest things FIRST has taught us is that within a team everyone has to look out for each other and work towards the same goal. In order for this to happen, everyone needs to contribute otherwise the entire team will lack their insight and advice. With this in mind, it is particularly important that women in groups feel able to speak up and speak out as they often bring a unique perspective to the group.
As women, we have to speak up otherwise others will keep speaking without us. A recent study published in the American Political Science Review shows that women are less likely to speak up in mixed gender groups that operate on a majority rule basis. We can see this in our own lives. Through robotics We’ve seen that even though we think we’re about to say something silly, if we don’t speak up, we will miss out on the conversation and discussion entirely. Perhaps this is the the largest value FIRST has instilled in us--nobody knows what we are thinking unless we say it outloud.
In addition to speaking up, women need to speak out by owning their space and negotiating from it. Studies have shown women are just as good--if not better--than men at negotiating. But, here’s the big catch, only when negotiating on behalf of others. When negotiating for themselves, women are significantly worse than men.
It is great to talk about speaking up and out, but theory can lead to analysis paralysis and no real results. Here are our four practical tips to help you speak up and out:
This blog was written by Sarah, Stephanie, and Kassie from FRC 3132, The Thunder Down Under. If you are interested in writing a blog, sign up on the schedule.
It's already been 5 months since FIRST Ladies launched back in June. In that short period of time, we've already reached nearly 200 members in the Facebook group, including girls from all over the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil, and several FIRST and FIRST AmeriCorps VISTA employees. The response to this group has been overwhelming in the best way, and shows how much we can do when we join together to change the world.
And now, for a big announcement! FIRST Ladies has been asked by members of the FIRST AmeriCorps VISTA program to work with them on their brand new Girls Collaborative Project. They will be hosting a Google Hangout on Friday, December 12th at 5 PM Central Time for members of FIRST Ladies about their experiences as women in STEM. If you are interested in attending this hangout, make sure to put your email on this list, and keep and eye out for an event notification in the Facebook group!
Nothing FIRST Ladies does would be possible without all of the amazing people who support and contribute to everything we do. Getting a positive influence out to girls in STEM is one of the most important things anyone can do, and there is any army of people ready to do it. Thank you to everyone who continues to push for girls in FIRST, your efforts are so important!
As we look to the next five months, FIRST Ladies will be expand our presence on social media. We will be creating an Instagram and would love to post your pictures! If you want us to incorporate your pictures, use the hash tag #FIRSTLadiesinSTEM and tag us. We are also in the process of updating the map (found on the home page). Let us know if your team or school isn't on the map by sending us an email or Facebook post. Here's to another 5 months, thank you for supporting FIRST Ladies!
In my experience, the biggest problem with engaging girls in STEM is that they don't discover how great it is at a young age. This season, my FTC team's main goal is to show young girls how cool robots are - and get them excited about FIRST. During the summer, we reached out to our local Girl Scout Troops and asked them if they would be interested in attending a robotics workshop - and we got very positive feedback. Immediately, we started developing a schedule and even went through the process of creating a badge for them. And today during the workshop, we saw the power that just 4 hours of robots can have.
We opened the workshop with a little background about FIRST, what our team does, and more information about the FIRST LEGO League program. When we played videos of our team in competition, and even the LEGO robots completing tasks from the Nature's Fury board, we could see their eyes light up - "Wait..you made your robot HANG!?"
As soon as they got their robots, the excitement grew. They learned how to program and immediately began experimenting and trying to figure out the next step before we taught them how to do it. The energy in the room was contagious, with 30 girls running back and forth from their computers to test their next idea. Once they got started, it was nearly impossible to bring them all back together. It was easy to see the friendships forming between the troops as the girls helped other groups. Even when they started building the arm for the bot and it was obvious that some of them hadn't build with LEGOs before, the energy didn't die down. Other girls stepped up to help their partners and showed amazing teamwork to get all the arms built.
Small teamwork activities were sprinkled throughout the day to break up building and programming. Most of the girls said their favorite activity was building a house out of spaghetti and marshmallows because it helped them understand they best way to build things. We talked about how triangles are the strongest shape, and cross bracing helps to support frames.
All of the adult leaders gave us glowing feedback, and asked us if we would be interested in a follow-up workshop. Two of the most powerful comments we got from the girls was that the workshop made her "think about robots in a whole different way" and that "it made me think that engineering and science plays a big part in the world." Our goal was to show elementary school girls that the world of STEM is open to them whenever they want to step into it. Maybe it was only 4 hours with robots, but sometimes 4 hours is all it takes.
Being on an all-girls robotics team is kind of like living in a commune. During team meetings, I exist in a ladies-only bubble alongside my creative, enthusiastic, supportive teammates, but pushing out of that bubble into the rest of the STEM community is a pretty drastic transition. Over the ten years I’ve been involved with FIRST, I’ve become used to the situations and challenges that being a girl in STEM presents. Sometimes unnerving comments or actions are blatantly unfair, or other times just accidentally sexist. It’s important to maintain a conversation about issues of sexism in STEM and the culture shift that needs to happen before they can improve, but for the immediate future, being able to professionally deal with gender-related criticism or discrimination is an important skill.
It Has to Start Somewhere
During registration for an event my team organized recently, the coach of an elementary school FLL team asked us to split his team up for educational workshops, so that the boys could learn about building and programming and the girls could learn about core values and project research. I asked him if these workshops were the ones the kids had requested to participate in. He hadn't even thought to ask the team members about what they wanted to learn - he just naturally assumed that the boys would be more interested in building and working with robots and the girls would want to work on their team cheer and project.
This coach wasn't an evil misogynist out to segregate the future workforce - he was just subconsciously making conclusions based on tired gender stereotypes. The first step to being able to respond to criticism from others is to watch out for these kind of assumptions, which we've always been taught to make. It’s okay to gently call people out for things like this - most of the time, they won’t even realize why they made their conclusion in the first place!
(After talking to his kids, the coach decided to put both the boys and girls on his team in robot and core/project workshops. The teacher of the programming workshop received a thank-you email from one of the girls on the team after the event.)
Use Your Resources
Having an all-girls FTC team to come back to after negative experiences has been incredibly important to me over the past five years. Support from peers is the best tool you can use - if there aren’t girls on your robotics team you can talk to, there are tons of other places you can look. FIRST Ladies is a great community to leverage, as well as organizations like Women in Technology or the Society of Women Engineers - do some Googling and find a group in your area that has coding coffees or other events, and go! Being around people who face the same difficulties as you is not only relieving, but also a learning experience.
Sexism and Power Dynamic
Standing up to someone who’s “on your level” can be hard enough - what do you do if you feel that someone above you in job title or other qualification is being sexist? Unfortunately, because there is so much variation in personal relationships, these circumstances are tricky. The best thing you can do is talk to a woman in your life who has dealt with this before and explain the situation in as much detail as you can. Your response to a boss or professor will be different than your response to a coach or mentor, and discussing what to do with someone you trust will help you figure out the best way to handle it.
Sometimes People are Straight-Up Jerks
You can probably think offhand of some specific experiences or comments that have left you speechless with their utter misogynistic ignorance or stupidity. There are two basic ways to handle situations like this: you can either respond with biting sarcasm (that will probably be lost on the person anyway), or you can mentally blast Hilary Duff and forget about it. Both are equally satisfying.
If You Feel Unsafe
Ignorant assumptions are one thing. Dumb comments are another. But if anyone ever makes you feel legitimately very uncomfortable or threatened by targeting your gender, you absolutely have the right to (1) get out of the situation as quickly as possible and (2) report it. Gender-based harassment within the STEM community is a major reason that women end up dropping out of tech careers*, and it can only stop if victims and observers take action.
But What If You Do Marketing?
A lot of the criticism and negativity surrounding girls in STEM focuses on the premise that women don’t or can’t build robots, write code, and do math. So most of the response from women is, logically, to prove that we rock at those things. Along with the vehement “Um, yes we can!,” however, sometimes comes a weird reverse discrimination - against girls who have jobs in business, media, or presentation within their teams or companies. If someone is giving you grief for doing a non-robot-related job on your team, you can use any of the same tactics that are used for responding to sexist criticism that is robot-related. Whatever you do, be proud of doing it awesomely - you and your talents don’t deserve anything less.
This blog post was written by Annika Garbers, of FTC Team GENIUS. Sign up to blog for FIRST Ladies on the schedule.
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