Panel Recap: Reign Robotics – High School as a Female Nerd

My first panel of GGC ‘16 was with the super smart young women of Holy Names high school’s FIRST Robotics team.

What is FIRST Robotics?
FIRST Robotics is a mentor-based program for youth engagement in science and technology. They offer programs for all age groups with a focus on STEM concepts.

The FIRST Robotics Competition is a high school-only where teams of students develop, build, and program their own robot. Students must follow strict rules, are given limited resources, and have only six weeks to complete their project.

Once completed, teams compete in a difficult field game where their industrial-sized robots are put to the test.

The Panel
The panel began with Holy Name Robotics team members introducing themselves and their roles. The teams consists of engineers, programmers, and business people all working together toward a common goal.

The programmers focus on software development for their robot creation. Working primarily with Java, the programmers code software that will make the robot take direction from the team during the competition. One of the team members noted that she had no previous experience with coding before joining FIRST Robotics, but that through mentorship and practice she is now able to write code with confidence.

Engineering constructs the robot’s body and all game appropriate features. Using saws, drills, and other assorted power tools, these young engineers are in charge of making the robot plans into a 3-D reality. All of the team members were really excited to talk about working with power tools. The team mused that teenage women don’t often have the opportunity to work with these tools on these types of projects. One member mentioned that she was at first intimidated by working with such powerful tools, and yet, once she picked them up, she realized that there was nothing to be intimidated by.

Finally the business team members main focus is to allow the others to do their work. They are in charge of fundraising, marketing, and any other business-related work. Holy Names’ robotics team even won two awards for the 40-page business plan they submitted along with their robot. Addie, the team’s current business woman, spoke about her journey within the robotics team. She first joined with the intention of working as an engineer, but she quickly found that her strengths lay in business. Even so, the team was insistent that every member has a voice and can contribute to any part of the competition no matter what their area of skill may be.

The Benefits
One of the biggest topics discussed where the benefits of joining a FIRST Robotics team. The answers for everyone will be unique, but the women of Holy Names robotics were quick to give this list:

  • Make friends
  • Learn tons of unique skills
  • Experience STEM-based opportunities that many high school women don’t receive
  • Gain an excellent item for college applications
  • Connect with students at other schools
  • Forge potential career paths

A big part of the discussion revolved around how working on the robotics team had helped members discover new passions and potential careers. One member relayed the story of a former classmate who discovered that she wanted to be a tailor after working with FIRST. She had made the team’s competition costumes and found that she loved the work enough to pursue it into the future.

The Gender Experience
Many of the questions from the audience revolved around the team’s experience as an all-female team. The group expressed warmth and positivity saying that everyone at FIRST has been “very supportive” of girls, and that their peers do not treat them differently based on their gender.

However, they have had negative experiences, although they were hesitant to bring them up. One member recalled an adult mentor from another team tell them that they were “doing pretty good for a bunch of chicks.” This frustrated them, but they said that it “doesn’t get them down.”

What seems to bother them more is how frequently their gender is called out in general. For example, they have won best “all girls” team, which they feel unnecessarily calls attention to their gender when the focus should be on the work.

Advice to Freshman
“Come in with an open mind,” one team member said. When she started, she wasn’t sure that she would find writing code interesting, but coming in with a mindset to at least try opened her up to new paths and ideas.

Another member agreed. “Just go for it, even if it frightens you.”

Finally, they stressed the benefits that came from FIRST regardless of personal outcome. “No matter what you come in wanting of thinking you want to do, robotics team will help you discover what you like and what you’re good at.”

Follow Them
If you’re interested in seeing what’s next for this amazing team, make sure to follow them:

Website: Firstteam5588.wordpress.com

Twitter: @first_team5588

The new season started January 7, so make sure to check in and see what’s next for this inspiring team!

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Adrienne Clark
“Rock On!”

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