By Allie Skalnik
Karen Wang founded Robotics at University in her freshman year and participated in VEX Robotics for two years before starting an FRC team (The F.I.R.S.T Robotics Competition) just last year. Meredith Hogan also started as Lead Mentor last year. Andy Tang and Karen Wang served as Team Captains for the 2018-2019 season and will continue until they graduate and pass the title on this spring. University’s robotics team, the Roboblazers, competed in the FRC World Championship and was awarded the Rookie All-Star Award in Detroit. More recently, the team competed at IndyRAGE, an all-girls event, placing second overall and winning the Judge’s Choice Award.
Why Girls Don’t Like STEM
Like all other girls who like STEM, I’m used to being on the edges of rooms filled with boys. I was in robotics in middle school, in a program called FLL, which is a branch of FRC designed for younger kids. I participated in the program for years but never worked on programming or building the robot. This was not the fault of the team or the teacher, who gave me countless opportunities to participate, but rather a result of my discomfort in being the sole girl on the team.
Robotics at University was distinctly different. The responsibilities of a first-year team threw us all in the deep end. There was no time to delegate tasks. We couldn’t afford to send a few members out into the hall to make posters with scented Crayola markers. “Prototype an intake system,” we were told. “What’s that?” “Look it up.” Along with being stressful and terrifying, this system forced impressive cooperation and teamwork, including giving girls equal opportunities on the team.
It was a slap in the face when we attended competitions and realized that this wasn’t the case everywhere. For many teams, girls are kept at arm’s length from the robot. That means not being involved in building or programming the robot, much less driving it. Instead, girls are delegated to tasks like fundraising, outreach, and branding. These are all very important jobs, but they don’t allow girls to do anything STEM-related, should they wish to.
How to Give Girls Opportunities in STEM
In 2007, FRC team Cyber Blue, based out of Perry Meridian High School, took note of how competitions (and robotics in general) were so male-dominated and created an offseason competition called IndyRAGE. There was only one rule: the girls have to drive. This simple idea has had far-reaching effects. For many girls, it was their first opportunity to drive their team’s robot in competition. More importantly, IndyRAGE impacts the greater community. This year’s competition doubled as an event for local Girl Scouts, widening the scope of the program.
No matter what we do to try to make spaces more inviting, it’s still intimidating to be the only girl in the room. IndyRAGE breaks down these barriers. Not only does it create more interest for girls in STEM, but it puts girls front and center. However, what truly makes this event so special is the level of care expressed by the male team members who weren’t participating. From helping us train every day to spending their Saturday supporting us in competition, the significance of the event was amplified by the support from male team members. While a competition like this absolutely has the capacity to send the message that the boys on our team are not important to our success, I think we’ve managed to say just the opposite.
Image courtesy of the UHS RoboBlazers, FRC Team 7617