A Letter to High School Girls Considering FRC Robotics
From Gabby Tender & Pau Pineda
High School is an amazing time to explore new opportunities and find out what you’d like to work in. Being a part of FRC Robotics gave us the unique opportunity to explore engineering and science as a career and develop our confidence in a mostly male environment. Learning lessons about empowerment and responsibility as women was impactful on how we associate with our male peers today, and taught us leadership, collaboration, and teamwork. FRC kindled our passion for ingenuity and exploration, and also taught us to be true to ourselves, overcome adversity, and excel.
When we both joined the leadership of our FRC Robotics team two years ago as Seniors, we were the only female leaders. Although our team tried to do as much as possible to let prospective teammates know that we do not discriminate based on gender, there is something inherently intimidating and unnerving about a less than 20% female ratio.
We both did as much as we possibly could to confront others’ perceptions of gender norms. We took on leadership roles, refused to be intimated by the messier machining, and sometimes (though thankfully rarely) shot down unknowingly sexist comments. We helped close the gender gap and teach others that women are just as valuable as men and can be just as useful of a resource every time we stepped up as authority figures. Having such involved women seemed to slightly alter our team dynamic to better match the changing norms in the STEM fields.
Although our team does do a lot to support and empower gender minorities — we recently won a Girl Power Robotics Competition — there is still a lot more that we can do. Based on personal experience, the best way to abate gender stereotyping is through balance. Of all of the STEM teams, clubs, research labs, schools, and summer camps that we have attended, one major pattern has emerged; the more even the gender ratio, the more comfortable girls feel joining and taking leadership roles in the activity.
We implore that anyone who is interested in Robotics, regardless of gender orientation, join the Robotics team. The future is amazingly pointing towards inclusion and advanced possibilities, and it needs new students to get where we want it to be.
Afterword: Both of us have been able to take what we learned at FRC to college and see how the number of women in STEM is impacting the community.
- Gabby is now a Sophomore Chemistry major at Caltech. As an intense STEM school, it is amazing that the current gender ratio is 46% female and 54% male (http://m.caltech.edu/content/glance). This relatively even gender ratio completely disregards the assumption that girls are not as interested in STEM. In this challenging environment, no one is concerned with gender identity, they get help from whomever they can.
- Pau is at Purdue University studying Mechanical Engineering with an astronautical concentration. Purdue’s ratio of female to male in engineering is about 1:4. This gender ratio is less than ideal and sometimes its consequences can be felt. However, it is encouraging to see peers of all genders bonding equally over the same coursework, and women joining female societies to make a large impact on the field. The future of STEM is full of passionate people with a wide spectrum of gender identities and presentations!