It’s no surprise that girls thrive when they’re part of a robotics team. The extremely popular FIRST Robotics program appeals to girls not only for the robotics and engineering experience gained but because it allows them to work in a team-oriented environment. Having worked with many engineers over the years, I am keenly aware of the low number of women engineers in the U.S. and wholeheartedly support efforts to get more women involved in engineering. The FIRST program is a great entry point for girls who are interested in exploring robotics and engineering.
When I learned that an all-girls robotics team at Lexington High School in Massachusetts had been created last year, I couldn’t wait to find out how the team, The Parity Bits, came to be. I had the opportunity to speak with the team captains, Naomi Wharton and Madison Wong, and hear about their experience on an all-girls rookie team. Both girls have had such positive experiences, on the co-ed team and the all-girls team, that I wanted to share the benefits of being part of a robotics team.
No robotics experience necessary!
Having prior robotics or engineering experience is not required to participate on a team. This is an important point to know and to share with your daughter since many students assume it is a requirement. If your daughter has an interest in robotics and a desire to learn, then she’s ready to join a team and try something new.
How girls benefit from being part of a robotics team
Being part of the robotics team for Lexington High School has been a tremendous experience for both captains. Madison Wong joined the team because she was impressed with the robot a female captain demonstrated at an activities fair. Naomi Wharton joined Lexington’s co-ed team because she had taken C++ programming classes sophomore year and was interested in learning about engineering as an application of computer science.
Both girls gained an enormous number of skills by participating in their school’s FIRST robotics program, including problem solving and design skills, as well as leadership, organization, communication, and time management experience. They liked being part of a group of people who were enthusiastic about robots.
Madison explained that this experience helped prepare her for college. She said, “Not only have I gained knowledge about building a robot, but my experience has taught me about interacting with people and how to lead a team. I also learned what to expect when going into the engineering field and how important it is to have female connections.”
Why start an all-girls team?
Both captains made it clear that no prior experience was necessary but they acknowledged that joining a well-established, co-ed team was intimidating at first. The team was quite large, with 60 members, and only nine members were girls.
Naomi explained that while the co-ed team was a great community, the girls at their school simply were not joining because of the male-dominated environment– even if they were interested in robotics. She shared that “the goal of launching an all-girls robotics team was to create a setting where girls felt encouraged to not only learn about robotics, engineering, and technology, but also to explore, experiment, fail, try again, and to ultimately succeed.”
Madison also added that “they wanted the team to be a place where girls didn’t feel intimidated to learn about engineering and could explore something they may know nothing about in a more humble environment.”
Both captains liked being part of an all-girls team and were impressed by the number of girls who were inspired and excited to get involved in this new team.
Since the majority of members had never been on a robotics team before, they spent the first few months learning to work with TETRIX, the structural pieces for building robots, and ROBOTC, a robotics programming language. This involved a lot of experimentation- to learn what worked and what didn’t. Naomi said, “Throughout the year, it was wonderful to set our own expectations for our progress throughout the season, and we were thrilled to reach and surpass the goals we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year.”
Joining a team
To find a team, start with your high school and inquire whether they have a robotics or engineering team. You can often find information on the activities page of the school’s website or by speaking with the technology and engineering teachers.
If your daughter is interested in robotics, being part of a high school team is a great way to get engineering experience in a team-supportive environment. While the idea of joining a robotics team can be daunting at first, keep in mind that having prior robotics experience is not necessary. The important thing is to be curious and be open to trying something new and learning along the way.
Finally, hats off to the young women of The Parity Bits team for having the vision and understanding to create a nurturing environment for girls and for taking the initiative to make it happen. You really are an inspiration!