Make: To Build a Better Team, Build a Better Robot - Kate Azar on Women in STEM

This has been bouncing around on our team, and I noticed it hadn’t made it to CD.

Kate Azar is an alumna of Team 2177, the Robettes, in Minnesota, and a Dean’s List Finalist. As the article says, she’s studying at the U of M and serves as the director of programs for our FIRST support group, GOFIRST.

Really great to hear her thoughts, and an excellent read.

Not sure if should build robot or team first now… :wink:

Read the article first. It’s not at all about building robots and only incidentally about building a team. It is, however, at the heart of FIRST.

I’m aware… It was a bit of a joke about the mix-up with the headlines. I’ll add more smiley and winky faces next time to make that apparent…

I didn’t read that as a dependent clause-- I read the comma as the word “and.”

Actually, I did get that, but wanted to make sure others knew that the title didn’t really describe the article. As to what the titles would suggest, both are true. The team and the robot build each other, sort of like this relationship:

Haha woops … that’s pretty funny

A mod could change the thread title… maybe

Reading this article, it strikes me that we need to work on social education for both boys and girls on FIRST teams. I think the social chemistry is probably unique on these teams and needs a more specific understanding of context than the general approaches that that seem to be offered.

Excellent article. FIRST has the unique aspect of being a truly co-ed sport where boys and girls competed together. I think it puts extra pressure on the mentors to help foster an even playing field. Ive been blessed to have a few strong young women who help 1) blunt the stereotypes by taking (not being given) leadership positions and 2) mentoring and pulling in more young women. This has led to an explosion of underclass girls, 25 out of 60 students. It opens up a new stress for our mentors… Dating. Ugh

We’ve definitely encountered that problem, and not just among the students. We have two adult mentors (both parents of team members) who are dating.

We have plenty of girls on the team, largely because Jesse, our head coach, actively recruits females, racial minorities, and other groups that you would not “normally” expect to be on the robotics team. He doesn’t actively recruit white males with an interest in STEM, but then he doesn’t have to. We have probably had more girls on the team than boys. Unfortunately, we have a lower retention rate for girls, which is something we’re working on. I asked one of the girls (my own daughter) why the retention rate was low, and what we could do. She said that most of the girls she knew who left did so because of intra-team dating (and in some cases they weren’t directly involved, but were friends with one or the other). It’s also obvious that flatly outlawing dating between team members is not a viable solution; people will hide it, leave the team, or be miserable in some other way.

We have implemented rules that people who are dating each other serve on different sub-teams, and refrain from PDA during team time. If anyone has taken additional practical steps, please share!

LOL… that is such an engineers way to deal with the problem. I love it!

I’ve worked with Kate in the past and she is an amazing role model for other females to get involved with FIRST and STEM. I’m incredibly happy that she had the opportunity to share her thoughts through MAKE Magazine.

Let’s improve how we work together, getting to know people as individuals and learning not just how to build robots but how to build more capable teams based on mutual respect.

This is probably my favorite quote from the whole article. FIRST is more than just robots, FIRST is a group of people working together to create a better culture and remove those gender stereotypes.

I hope Kate continues to share her experiences in FIRST with others throughout the world, we need more people that think like Kate. I know I will be sharing this article with others throughout the year.

They recently had an election and have new officers. Kate did a great job as the Director of Programs for the group last year!

I have seen similar situations in a couple of settings. Most of the girls on our team (with one notable exception) respond with an attitude of “I don’t know anything about tools/building/computers” when asked to help with something technical. We once nearly got in to an argument, albeit light heated, with one of our girls to get her to learn to use a saw. I can only really think of one boy on our team who has ever responded in a similar way. Unfortunately I don’t know whether the behavior of the girls comes from something before they join the team, the way the boys on the team treat them, or something else.

Another thing we’re doing this year that we’re hoping will better integrate the team by gender is requiring all members (and even mentors) to participate BOTH in a business-side committee AND on the technical (robot build and related topics). The two functions will normally meet on different nights, though we may occasionally have brief meetings of one before or after the other when it’s convenient. The leaders on both sides will wear equal “rank insignia” on their uniforms at competition. (Yes, we do this: single bars for lieutenants, double bars for department captains, mentors wear FRC mentor pins, lettered varsity and lead mentors add the letter pin, and we may come up with some way to represent the people who’ve won intra-team awards.)

I loved reading this. Kate is a great person, my team knows this first hand.

At our first ever competition (North Star 2013) we were fortunate enough to have our pit next to 2177 and Kate was a staple in their pit. Our Safety Captain and her quickly started up a dialogue that lasted throughout the event. Not only did she and her team offer great advice for us, they were instrumental in getting us ready for the regional.

Last year at the GoFIRST Splash training, one of my students lost his ticket for lunch. He was nearly in tears when it came time to hand over the ticket. She saw the frustration in his eyes and quickly stated (and logically presumed) “well, you are here, so obviously you paid”. No questions, not necessarily a case of GP, just compassion.

Great article.

Of course, if the inventor of the “Laws of Robotics” (Isaac Asimov) is correct, it wouldn’t actually be of much help. The first conservation theorem that Hari Seldon’s team was able to prove was referred to as “The Law of Conservation of Personal Problems”:

(On page 273 of the hardcover, page 300 of the Bantam Spectra paperback, or at this link)

There’s a reason she was a Dean’s List Finalist. It’s been a pleasure working with her over the past year-- I know very few people with her drive and work ethic. When our former Director of Programs had to leave midway through the year, she stepped up and helped make sure our programs ran smoothly for the rest of the year. She left a big set of shoes for me to fill taking over the position.