[FRC BLOG] Something New – Mentor Monday

One of the wonderful things about my job is that I get to work with an FRC staff that is always coming up with great new ideas. Today we’re implementing one suggested by Collin Fultz, FRC Team Advocate.

We’ve got lots of great mentors in FRC, with lots of great stories about how they got to where they are. Today, we start an occasional feature called ‘Mentor Mondays’, in which they will get to tell their stories. In the first few, we’ll be focusing on female mentors. Among other questions, we’ll be asking them about female student and mentor outreach, to help us better understand how we can reach our goal of improving the gender ratio in FIRST.

Up first, Kelsey Draus, a former student on FRC Team 2451 and mentor on FRC Team 3928, who now mentors FRC Team 2451.


Tell us about your journey to the current point in your career. What were the most important steps that you took?

Where to start! I suppose the beginning would make the most sense:

I’ve always liked solving problems, and being creative. I once asked my parents if there was any sort of job that I could just solve problems, and they weren’t quite sure a way I could do that. In high school, my original plan was to become an art teacher, but I also really like science and math, so later it changed to being a math teacher. I like kids, and I could be creative in figuring out how they could best learn the material, so it seemed like a good choice.

My brother was on an FLL team, robotics was his thing, and I helped his team a little with their presentation, and project board, and taught them a little about team image. The high school kids who mentored my brother’s team were putting together a kid’s summer camp, and since most of those high school and middle school boys were pretty bad with little kids, they asked me to help out.

As it turns out, they really needed the help! I was a team leader, I couldn’t really program the FLL robots… (my brother came over and taught that part for me) but I did help build all the catapults! It was a ton of fun! One of the parents of the high school kids asked me if I would consider joining a robotics team. They were starting an FRC team, and she said if I didn’t want to actually build the robot, I could help out with marketing and team image. I do like making things all pretty! So, I joined this robotics team.

After kickoff and those first couple of weeks, I was hooked. I really liked the brainstorming process, and I reeeeealllly liked working in the shop. I ended up bring one of those in-the-shop-every-night kids, and was mostly making parts for the robot. I helped with the marketing and bumpers and team image too, but I felt more at home with a drill in my hand.

My senior year, I was elected as the mechanical captain of the team. We gained Genesis Automation as a sponsor and as mentors. Working with the engineers as Genesis taught me more about what an engineer does, solve problems! So I shifted gears and went into engineering. Why materials and not mechanical engineering? I do like mechanical things, but I also love chemistry, glass, and metals, so it was the perfect fit for me.

I went to Iowa State, and helped to start a team in Ames, and mentored them for 3 years in college. In college I mentored in the non-technical areas because that’s where help was needed most. I graduated, and now work doing failure analysis. I love my career, and I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without joining a robotics team!

So that’s my story (the short version)!
Were there influential people or events along the way?**

I would have to say, there are a handful of people who really inspire me and have helped me. My mom has always told me I am capable of anything I want to accomplish. It might take a lot of hard work, but I can do it. She is also pretty mechanical, and she always takes the time to teach me. My parents have always been very supportive which I am always grateful for!

My high school physics teacher was the one who said I would do well in materials engineering and that I should really look into Iowa State. I was the only girl in my AP physics class, and yet I won almost every engineering challenge, my teacher told me I would make a good engineer, just remember to do my homework!

The mentors from Genesis! They are awesome! All of them were really supportive. They taught me a lot, and spending time with them helped me to really get a feel for what engineers do.

How can teams better reach out to female students who aren’t on their team? How can teams attract more female engineering mentors? Are there successes from your team(s) that you can share?

Try to encourage them to be creative, solve problems in their own way, and to not be afraid to try a new solution.

How I really got involved working in the shop was having creative solutions. I would see the boys doing something in the shop and struggling, I figured out a way to make it work, and went over and did it. I gained a lot of respect by doing that. Yeah, a file isn’t supposed to be used for taking off a little clamp thing, but it worked! Be open to new ways of doing things, and that goes for anyone, not just girls.

I did encounter a few chauvinists along the way. I had adult mentors as well as friends who stuck up for me. It was frustrating having someone think I shouldn’t do something just because I’m a girl. I remember one time, we were drilling holes, I asked one of the guys to trade jobs with me because I’m left handed, and couldn’t really get at the area really well, and he was struggling with a job because he couldn’t use his right hand as well. One of the guys who was there helping him responded “No way! We need his strength to do this job! There’s no way you of all people could do this!” My friend, the one who I was switching spots with, responded to him “Dude, she beat me in arm wrestling…” I didn’t really have problems with that kid after that. It just goes to show, if they respect you, it will go a long way. Having a team culture where students respect each other is important.

If you want to get girls involved on the team, just get them on the team, then figure out what they would like to do. I joined for the non-technical stuff, that’s what got me interested, but after spending some time in the shop, I realized I liked the technical side better. Encourage new members to try it all! Have some projects to let them figure out what they want to do.

When I mentored in college, I had a few girls who wanted to work on marketing and non-technical. I always gave them the option when we were in the shop that they could work on machining and building if they wanted. In the beginning I would sometimes work with them and make a part or something. They were trained on all the machines in the shop for safety, just like everyone else. The girls did choose to stick with marketing, but I told them if they ever wanted to stop and go work on something technical, they could, and I would help them.

Having female engineering mentors is great! But, since it’s not as common as everyone would like, having supportive male engineering mentors is just as good. I never had any female engineering mentors, but the male ones I had were really supportive.


Thoughts on this new segment?

On the same subject, FIRST Robotics Canada created this video to encourage girls to join robotics:

I think it’s really effective and have been spreading it to as many contacts as I can…

Quite frankly, we have a lot of poisonous elements in our culture/society that seem to actively discourage girls from participating in a lot of activities, like robotics.

By helping spread this video around, we can do our little part to change people’s perspectives about girls in robotics!