[first] robotics and young women

This blog post is a mix of two sessions:

  1. “How robotics programs influence young women’s career choices”
  2. The second half of “FIRST Women in Science and Technology Panel”

For other posts about the 2014 FIRST conference, see the index page.  (written on my iPad; please excuse typos)

Stats about college students

  • Percent grads in CS has gone down over last 20 years
  • Physics and engeineering flatter curve
  • Less than twenty percent of all three after twenty years even with intervention programs

[Interesting because looks at all students not just the cs classroom percent]

Supportive relationships

  •   FRC has several levels of heroes – mentors, teachers, emcees at events and everythingi n between
  • Parents and mentors came up as dominant heroes

(Inputs) Per female undergrads, Frc is

  • Intensive 6 week collaborative jouney
  • Competing – smaller memory than other parts
  • Social cohesion and peer support – dominant memory if frc

Gender memories

  • Girls think differently. Can be positive or negative
  • Some boys treated girls poorly
  • Girls can get pushed aside on mixed gender teams. Often not part of design, build operations or drive team. May not be insiders on some teams.
  • Girls bond more over talking. Boys bond through proximity.
  • The undergrads who pursued STEM degrees tended to be more aware of gender stereotypes. Interesting.


  • Make game experiences more relevant and connected to real world challenges -national academy of enginnering recommends this as well as “changing the conversation”. Talk about solving problems, not math. Talk about what you worked on not how it happened. FLL does this. The game has ties to the real world such as Nature’s Fury.
  • Develop and provide mentor training – student decisions, not mentor decis ions [agree – I don’t make decisions for team).
  • Encourage female students to stretch (might need more pou shing than boys)
  • Caring mentors make good role models
  • Inspire by sharing stories and making career connections.


  •  Critical mass helps overcomes stereotype bias –
  • Tough to be only girl. Much easier than when 3 or 4
  • Develop programs tof oster social cohesion and peer support – change mental model for programs with few girls

Some of the Questions

  1. how important are female STEM mentors? A study on race showed helps but not a requirement to inspire
  2. sterotype threats – draw a scientist – get a white male in a lab coat
  3. re respect – female mentors can help atmosphere. But a male can tell the boys to back off too.

General points from afternoon session

  • Nobody know how to ride a bike without practice. Engineering is the same.
  • Can’t know if like something unless try it
  • Some of the best things in live are scary
  • Learn to understand how men think
  • Take in small roles and build up to larger ones
  • Don’t be shy. Approach people. Seek out a mentor. And pay it forward and mentor others. Most people will talk to you about their job for half an hour

Women only groups

  • Society of women engineers (SWE) – men can join too. Criteria is to support women in engineering. Consider it a support group
  • As a women, need groups to meet other women and network/promote each other. But also balance organizations belong to so networking with men too. Balance matters more as an adult
  • Focusing on women because filling a need. Saw problem where women were ready for jobs, didn’t have those skills
  • In 4th grade, girls interested in science and curious. By eight grade, it was gone

All girl teams

  • With same skill level, six year old boy thinks knows everything and six year old girl thinks knows nothing
  • Good to have a mix especially at older age. Boys can be insecure too.
  • More empowering to see a mxied gender teamw ith a female driver or captain
  • Men tend to be comfortable doingso mething when have 60% of knowledge. Girls f eel comfortable at 100%
  • We separate them by gender in summer camp analogy [this stops when they get to be teenagers though]
  • Dont want girls to think couldnt to as well on a mixed gender teams
  • A student spoke about when separted in school classes too, didn’t learn how to work with boys. Try to find common interests
  • People will lean towards a career where they see someone who looks like them. Whether race or gender. Becuase helps imagine self in role. (I identify with this. A lot of my role models are male. Be cause they are doing what I see myself doing)
  • Make sure kids still involved. A big middle ground between a pioneer and pure support. Can be a team player and do work on the team. Still seen as a pioneer though.

Watch how speak

  • We should put that on the robot vs do you think we should put that on the robot.
  • Unfortunate have to watch what say
  • Don’t end sentences with “right?” Sounds like not confident and asking permission

My impressions:

I liked the morning session. It was data driven and not just feel good “we should so something”. Or “girls and boys are the same”.

I have mixed feelings about girl only teams. Bronx sci ence does it well becausei t isnt a second tier team. But women do work with men in the real world. How long do you incubate and keep that separate? And I worry this doesn’t expose boys to working with strong tech females. Which becomes a problem later. I do thinki it is important to have a critical mass of girls so there are female friends on the team.

I struggle with the talking about gender. I want for it to not matter. I’m a developer. But she is right that talking matters. And I remember when one of our students commented about not wanting to be a “female” role model. And I was forced to write that it still matters that the girls can look up to her.  (For my thoughts on that topic, see this blog post.)

Looking around the room at the audience was interesting. It was a mix of pairs of girls and one girl from a team. And of course parents.

For the afternoon session, I wasn’t there long enough to have an impression. It attracted a more diverse crowd though.

1 thought on “[first] robotics and young women

  1. Pingback: [first] 2014 championship conference | Down Home Country Coding With Scott Selikoff and Jeanne Boyarsky

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