THE BLOG

Calling All Young Ladies for FIRST Robotics

05/26/2015 01:22 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2016

If you are a woman--good. There's no finer thing to be.

Actually, I take that back.

A finer thing is to be a woman AND to be in FIRST Robotics.

As one with experience, trust me on that.

I'll be honest though, I haven't always had this piece of wisdom. I was once a naïve, lost girl without robotics. I joined just two years ago, when I was a junior. My older sister had joined our local team a year prior; my dad had suggested that I give it a try over the summer, and I took his advice come fall.

At the first meeting, we had to sign up for what sub-team we wanted to be a part of -- wiring and pneumatics, programming, drive train, manipulator. Wanting to be on the most involved part of the team, I naturally chose manipulator -- the sub-team in charge of the overall construction and design of the robot.

A few meetings later, when we finally broke down into our sub-teams, I came to a terrifying realization: of the twenty students on manipulator, there were two girls.

And I was one of them.

A very persistent part of me wanted to try another team. One where I wouldn't be dominated by teenage boys. But another part of me -- a much larger, even more persistent part of me -- was going to stay no matter what.

And stay I did. It took me a while to grow comfortable in the environment; after all, I was in a build space, basically a workshop -- a place women were not a part of for hundreds of years. I was surrounded by male mentors and male students practically 24/7.

After two or three meetings of standing around frightened, questioning why I was there, I decided to take charge: one Wednesday night when we were putting together the base for the robot, I was the first to pick up the drill, I was the first to put forth an engineering idea. I was the first to pick up the wrench and start assembling. The boys did not react overly well, and a few of them even tried to grab the wrench out of my hand.

I refused to let them scare me off, and, after that night, I was never the same.

By the end of build season, I was one of the most committed members, and made my way onto the pit crew that serviced the robot at competitions. When positions opened up for leadership the following year, I applied for the project leader of manipulator. I landed the position (and I beat out several boys for the job).

Let me just say that boy am I glad that stubborn part of me won.

Yet, this year, the unequal ratio of men to women still plagued our team. Even as a woman in a leadership role, I only had one girl join of over twenty students on my team. When I applied for a team grant during build season, the online form asked for the number of women and men on our team.

Here's what I typed in: Women - 27, Men - 73

I never knew 27 could be such a meager number.

And that 27 is why I am calling all teen ladies to join FIRST Robotics. Frankly, it goes so far beyond just a number. Here's the deeper, truer reason I'm calling all women: robotics has made me ten times the person I would have been without it. It has engaged me and impassioned me beyond words. There are so many benefits to FIRST, I can't even name them all. It was a turning point in my life, and I'd hate to think that someone would be missing out on the benefits of FIRST because of fear. It kills me when I think that I almost quit robotics on account of fear.

And I know that other girls are scared, too. Last summer at a robotics demonstration for a space fair, a young eighth grader was at the event and looking at our robot. While I was talking to her about the robot, and mentioned joining the team next year, I could see the look of terror in her eyes. I spent a good thirty minutes with her, coaxing her out of that fear.

Her father came up to me afterwards and thanked me. He told me I had no idea how much seeing a woman in a leadership role on a robotics team had changed his daughter's views.

I cannot stand the idea that such a bright woman would not join because of fear; that those who worry think it's a man's world. Ladies, let me make this clear: FIRST Robotics wants you. They want all the talents and drives and ideas that you can bring to the table! Just think of what you can accomplish with FIRST. If you don't know, you need to read up.

Trust me, FIRST is a woman's world too. (And let me add that having another woman friend in the build space would not be the worst thing in the world.)

For those lovely ladies already in FIRST, let us spread the word. Let us raise that number 27.