I came across an article on all-girl teams in the FIRST Robotics competition thanks to an email from ACM today. I’ve talked about FIRST before and I’m a big fan of the program. A lot of people ask about girls and their interest in robotics as if they expect girls not to be interested in them. It seems though as if girls are starting to move into that area in a big way these days.
Part of that may be the result of the FIRST Lego League which is the middle school robotics competition that FIRST runs. Middle school girls appear not to understand that they are not supposed to be interested in robots and so they are participating in significant and growing numbers.
There were a number of all-girls teams at the FIRST Championship in Atlanta this year. There are more and more girls involved in co-ed teams in technical/mechanical roles as well. The lead programmer for the autonomous mode program and the team I follow locally was a talented young woman. Her paper of their program was outstanding and an example of the type of skills FIRST promotes.
One of the great things I have observed in FIRST is that the girls who are participating are not losing any of their identity as women. What I mean by that is that they are not trying to “act like boys” or to pretend that they are acting against type. They are girls and they want people to know it. More than a few girls wore skirts of some type over their jeans for example. I talked to an adult mentor from one all-girls team about this. All of the girls and their mentors (all of their mentors were women BTW) were wearing kilted plaid skirts over their pants. The mentor told me that they wore the pants to protect their legs in the work environment. The skirts were part of their school uniform and as such part of their identity.
Girls can do any of the technical things that boys do. They can build, program and run robots. They don’t have to stop being girls to do it. I think that is a valuable message for them to receive. Let us not perpetuate the myth of men’s roles, women’s roles or that either gender has to be more like the other to succeed.