"So your parents made you do this, right?", "Is your boyfriend on the team too?", "I bet you're doing this for college applications.", "Looks like you're in it for the tutu!" - all phrases that I am much too familiar with. This year marks the beginning of my 8th year in the FIRST program, so despite popular belief, I'm involved with FIRST because I actually like building robots and I really do want to be an engineer. All it takes is a 5 minute conversation to realize how passionate I am about FIRST and engineering in general. I'm constantly defending my involvement in a program I truly love, simply because I'm female.
Two weeks ago, my team attended the International Manufacturing Showcase in Chicago as part of the FIRST exhibit. It was an amazing experience and we got to see so many real-life applications of things we have learned through building out own robots. There were huge manufacturing displays that had state-of-the-art machinery, huge robots that could do just about anything, a 3D printed car, and so much more. Walking around, I couldn't believe how much of the manufacturing world I knew nothing about. It was really exciting to see so many people and learn about different companies.
The one thing that bothered me as I was making my way around the booths was this: there were no women engineers. Every booth or display I went to, the only women I saw were the ones who smiled and asked me if I wanted a catalog of the company's products. I didn't see any women working the machines, and very few of them answered questions I had. Not that I was expecting a huge number of women there, but it made me sad that even at a huge event like IMTS, it took a lot of effort to find someone I could see myself being.
Engineering isn't easy, no matter who you are. Maybe it's harder for women because of all the sexism we have to push against, but any girl or woman in FIRST can tell you that it's worth it. By standing together in groups like FIRST Ladies, we can empower ourselves and others to face the adversity with strength. Together we can change the world of engineering.
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