Fields involving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are essential in today’s society. Not only because of the amount of jobs that rely on these areas, but because they guide us towards the improvement of our future. These fields have and will always be vital in our lives. For instance, let’s take a look at how medicine has increased the life expectancy of the average person. Or how smartphones have innovated the way we communicate. The homes we live in, the forms of transportations we use, and even the roads we cross have been enhanced through the advancement of engineering. And if we take mathematics into consideration, we now know that what our elementary teachers told us was true, math is all around us. From the money we spend in gift-giving during the holiday season to handling taxes. STEM fields shape our lives on a day-to-day basis
Yet, we must take into account that even though these areas are of great impact, most people don’t have the same opportunities to partake on them. There is a gender gap in STEM fields. In the US, women make up half of the workforce; despite this, only 24 percent of them actually hold a STEM job (Beede 1). This numbers are alarming because they represent a great disadvantage for women. STEM workers have higher wages and are less likely to experience joblessness than non-STEM workers (Langdon 1). Likewise, women with STEM jobs earn 33 percent more compared to those working in education or healthcare (“Women in STEM”). Then, why is it that the number of women is disproportionately low in these fields?
There are various aspects that contribute to this issue, such as: a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping, cultural expectations, and less family-friendly flexibility in STEM-related fields (Beede 1). If we want equal opportunities among genders, encouraging and supporting young women throughout their academic experiences is crucial.
In order to achieve this goal, a wide variety of organizations have aimed to engage girls worldwide to pursue education and careers in STEM fields. A great example of this, is the organization For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST). Their mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting Mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills (“Vision and Mission”). FIRST, takes a different approach in captivating children’s interest towards STEM fields. This organization has created the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), in which high school students and their mentors work together during a six-week period to create a robot that will later compete in a tournament against other robots from teams from all over the world (“At a Glance”).
However, FIRST is not only focused on robot-related games; as their motto goes, “FIRST is more than robots.” This organization has a unique culture that inspires high school students to participate in community-awareness campaigns that—as if it were a chain reaction—also bring STEM activities closer to other young people. Additionally, most FRC teams have made it their goal to positively influence children from low socioeconomic backgrounds to have an interest in STEM fields.
FRC teams like tCATs 5526, have created an impact in their community by working together with associations like FIRST Ladies and Sumando Niñas, which aim to promote the participation of young women in STEM areas. This team has mentored girls from Torreon—a city in northern Mexico—and opened new First Lego League (FLL) teams. FLL, similarly to FRC, is an international robotics competition, the difference being that this category is for elementary and middle school children (“At a Glance”). These new FLL teams have recently participated in a competition called Laguna Robot Challenge. tCATs coached five different teams from their city, four of which were only composed of girls. From these four teams, three came from a public school called Centro Teresa de Calcuta, and the other one from the school HECAT.
These young women, unlike other teams participating in Laguna Robot Challenge, didn’t have a workshop in their school nor any previous experience in mechanics and electronics. What they did have, was a positive attitude and a great will to learn new skills. Due to this, they were able to succeed in the tournament, and the team from the school HECAT was able to win 2nd place.
The excitement and effort these girls showed during the construction of their robot and throughout the competition is a crystal clear example that no matter their background, if you give people the opportunity and tools to follow their passions, they will be able to surpass any expectative. By showing young women they are just as capable as men and encouraging them to form part of programs like FIRST the interest of women in STEM fields will increase, and therefore the bridge between the gender-wage gap will close.
This blog was written by the Special Projects and Education Departments of FRC Team 5526, tCATs. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.
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