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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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