When I was growing up I wanted to be a princess. I dreamed of big castles and sparkly dresses but over the years, FIRST taught me that I don’t need to find a prince charming because I am already the queen.
All throughout elementary and middle school I was a shy kid. I stuck to what I knew, which was basically musical theatre and the color pink. I did theatre, played dress up, and lead the typical “girly girl” life. However, when I joined robotics my Freshman year of high school I did not expect my life to change as drastically as it did. I went from never speaking out to speaking for a whole team. From thinking that I belonged in the background of a musical to knowing that my place was in the shop with my team. FIRST taught me how to be a leader and that is something I want to help girls around the world to release too.
I joined robotics by accident. A few guys in my engineering class invited me to come to a meeting and so after rehearsal one day I decided to come down and check it out. I was terrified. All of these boys surrounding this tower looking robot trying to shoot basketballs into reflective hoops. I felt like I would never belong there. That is, until the team coach stepped up and introduced himself. He seemed so excited that I had come down to their shop. He and the boys from my class explained the game and their robot design to me. I felt included immediately and started to think that maybe robotics was for me. I decided to come to the next meeting and they quickly put me to work, sorting screws. Not the most glamorous job but hey, everyone needs to start somewhere. I ended up joining the team, coming to more meetings, and really feeling part of the team. At regionals that year, the guys from my class even let me be on drive team and it was in that moment, standing behind the plexiglass, that I knew I belonged.
These days I am the head captain of my robotics team. I speak at all of our outreach events and team meetings, and there is no way I could have done that without FIRST. FIRST is indeed more than learning how to build robots, its learning how to lead. I always had the power to take charge and lead a team but robotics is what drew those skills out of me. Bit by bit I took more charge on the team from speaking my opinions, to designing t-shirts, to managing the team. It is because of the welcoming and encouragement I received at that first meeting that I gained confidence in myself. These people trusted me and wanted me to be a part of their team, they let me help to build the robot and that is a gesture I will never forget. I wanted to write this post to encourage FIRST teams everywhere to continue to inspire leaders. You can achieve this by simply, being inclusive. A kids life can dramatically change because of small opportunities of leadership and feeling included on a team. I was the only girl on my team for awhile but my teammates treated me equally. Just because I mainly do marketing and outreach for my team doesn't mean I am clueless about the engineering aspect. It also doesn't mean I am of any less value to the team. Through being a leader on my team I have gained confidence in myself and I know that I can conquer any challenge that comes my way and that I am an important and strong individual.
This will sadly be my last year as a FRC student however I will never stop executing FIRST values. FIRST provided me with a unique environment where I felt welcome and encouraged and I want to carry the essence of FIRST wherever I may go. With the skills FIRST taught me, I know I can do anything I set my mind to.
This blog post was written by Natalie Hedberg. If you are interested in writing a blog post for FIRST Ladies, sign up here.
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