As a former teacher, I have always enjoyed getting messages from students who have wonderful stories to share with me about what paths they’ve taken after high school. Many of those stories come from girls who were members of my robotics team.
I remember Amelia, a student who loved marine science and joined the team because she loved my class. When she went off to college, she combined both of her loves double majoring in marine science and mechanical engineering. She is currently running research studies out in the Pacific Ocean using underwater rovers to collect data that she analyzes aboard the ship.
I remember Laura, a student whose dad always spent time with her brothers working on projects. When she joined the robotics team, she had a chance to work and build with him too. They made memories she kept with her forever.
I remember Morgan, who did robotics when she was a young girl and now works as an adult as a robotics outreach coordinator at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo—reaching her hand out to the next generation of young girls who are interested in STEM.
My students have taken different paths and have found success in their own ways. But what ties them together is the experience of our robotics team, which taught them to have confidence in themselves, to work as part of a group, and how to think outside the box. As the teacher of the team, it taught me all of these things as well.
I was introduced to competitive high school robotics while I was teaching at an all-girls school in Los Angeles. I loved watching the girls' eyes light up as they learned everything from the design project to project management to problem solving. I knew these were skills that could be applied to whatever they chose to study in college and whatever they would choose as a career.
I continued to support robotics programs at school and finally made my way to the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation, a non-profit focused on engaging students in robotics engineering programs around the world. Once I was in a position to see how these events work across the globe, I noticed a recurring theme: that there were always many fewer girls in attendance than boys. I knew that the girls competing were just as good as good as the boys. So after one recent trip, I decided I wanted to help level the playing field.
A lightbulb went off. I knew one thing I could do was develop a comprehensive approach to increase the number of all-girls robotics teams in my home state of California. I envisioned training sessions where girls could work alongside women engineers who could mentor them through robotics competitions. I envisioned providing insights to teachers on ways to foster girls' interest in robotics, and to show them what girls can contribute to these teams when they are included and encouraged. And most of all, I envisioned hosting an event where all of the girls' teams would come together to compete, and also to bond by sharing their experiences with women leaders and to network with their own peers.
I envisioned all this—and now I'm doing it. The REC Foundation program began in earnest just a few short weeks ago. I secured the support of local schools, and I am so proud to hold our launch event. I will welcome 50 to 100 girls, teachers and mentors to begin designing, building, and working together to participate in the current VEX Robotics Competition season. I want to empower and inspire female engineers—and help to bring up the next generation of brilliant women in robotics.
I am so excited to get started. As I embark on this goal, I'm reminded of a line of a poem I recently discovered: "You ask, 'what if I fail?' But oh my darling, what if you fly?"