Last spring my team, Nighthawk Robotics 11943, organised what we termed a Women and Gender Minorities in FTC event. As students at an all-girls school we had a unique perspective upon arriving to FTC. Our team is made up of students who were all assigned female at birth and, as we competed, we realized that our team was always “the girls team” or “that girls school”. We found ourselves resenting being called “ladies” at competitions and how officials use of the term carried over into other teams language and behaviour toward us. When we went to FIRST Splash (an event hosted by NYC FIRST that consists of FTC workshops) at the beginning of the season, we were able to unload our frustrations around being at a girls school and pursuing STEM. We found ourselves searching for other faces at competitions and wishing that we could have a space to talk about our experiences, were we the only ones affected? By that spring, we organised and hosted our first Gender Minorities in FTC event. It was billed as a night of conversation and dinner with a keynote speaker. We worked closely with building staff to find a date, secure space, and have the ability to feed our guests. Independently of this we tried to create fun FTC/STEM related activities as icebreakers for our event, eventually landing on FTC themed Pictionary. Our members used our usual work time to draft schedules for the event, order catering, and contact gender minorities on other teams.
When the day finally arrived, we had a greater than expected turnout with over thirty attendees. Our keynote speaker was our coach, Mr Watson’s, professor for his graduate program, Dr Sandra Okita. Dr Okita brought with her several of her female engineering graduate students and they talked about their journey as women in STEM and how they got into the field. Afterwards, we ate dinner (pizza and salad) while introducing ourselves and playing FTC-themed Pictionary. After dinner we cut our cake, frosted with the phrase “Graciously Professional STEMinists”, and started our discussion. We soon realized that our discussion questions weren’t working well and decided to operate a more free form discussion. One attendee spoke about how although she was captain other teams would approach one of her male teammates for questions related to the robot even after she identified herself at the team captain.Others spoke about how people assumed that they worked on the business end of the team as opposed to the programming and engineering side. All in all, we view the event as a resounding success for the first time.
As we look to hold our second event, renamed “Gender Minorities in FTC” to be more trans-inclusive, we are re-examining our previous one. The main changes we made are to the name and the time allotted to our keynote. We felt that last year our speakers took up too much of the time and, to stay on schedule, we had to condense other parts of our event. A few of our team members, who do not identify as female, felt a little alienated by the name. We also realized that our name might exclude those who identify as trans masculine and, as they are also gender minorities, we wanted to be explicit about their inclusion. All of these changes are
being incorporated to create a less formal atmosphere and a more free flowing discussion. As we continue competing and collecting emails of those who are interested, we are constantly keeping an eye on how to improve our event from last year. See you in the spring!
This blog was written by Erica J from FTC 11943 Nighthawk Robotics. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule!
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