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YOU GO GIRL! Women, Diversity and Outreach

FIRST Robotics YouGoGirl! initiative is dedicated to reversing society's perception of women in engineering by inspiring girls to get involved in STEM fields.

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SWE Leadership Summit Update
Jordan Love
Jordan Love

Jordan Love is a junior at Olathe Northwest High School in Olathe, Kansas. She is a proud SWENext leader at her school and is also the Director of Creativity for FIRSTÂ Robotics Competition Team 1710. Jordan leads the STEM Connection robotics workshop serving middle school girls in her district and is very active in the team’s overall community outreach efforts. Jordan is also an active participant in the Team’s “You Go Girl!” initiative which embodies the FIRST Team’s dedication to reversing society’s perception of women in engineering by inspiring girls to become involved in STEM fields. These efforts are focused on the younger generation, attempting to teach girls that science and engineering can be exciting, fun, and challenging.

Last fall, Jordan, along with several of her teammates, attended at the WE15 Conference in Nashville as part of the FIRST presentation showcasing “Young Innovators on the Rise.” Along with STEM advocacy, Jordan enjoys singing with her choir and spending time with friends. She is considering a career in industrial design but is keeping her options open.

“YOU GO GIRL!”: On Women, Diversity and Outreach – Then and Now….

A blog post by Jordan Love

Less than 25 percent of professionals in science, technology, engineering, and math-related fields are women. Think about that for a second-does it surprise you? This dramatic statistic displaying representation in STEM should be shocking. Unfortunately, many individuals see this as the norm.

Thankfully, groups around the globe have been working to combat this disparity. One such example would be the YouGoGirl! (YGG) program initiated by FIRST Robotics Competition Team 1710 which began with the goal of compelling more women to join the team. The focus has since expanded to include inspiring women in STEM, spreading the initiative to other teams and altering the face of engineering.

In 2007, this effort was spearheaded by mentors and team members alike when they created a postcard featuring women from the team working on the robot. This postcard was distributed to eighth graders throughout the school district, and the overwhelmingly positive reaction indicated that FIRST Team 1710 should develop a program to sustain the efforts toward inclusion of young women. Over the next several years, these efforts have manifested as trading cards, posters, tattoos, stickers, buttons, t-shirts, and more postcards proudly displaying the female members of the team and celebrating women in STEM fields. These implementations didn’t happen all at once, but the momentum gained since 2007 is now being used to spread the ideas of YouGoGirl! beyond our team and the immediate area.

One recent experience served to inspire and educate several students from my high school, including me, who have been involved for some time with FIRST. We had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join an alumnus from another Kansas team to help represent FIRST at the international Society of Women Engineers (SWE) conference in Nashville. Carla and Christina Proulx, who both work for the FIRST organization, invited us to present in a panel setting, sharing our experiences and speaking about our teams’ outreach. After sharing, we heard from professional and collegiate SWE members who were at our panel, and it was inspiring to hear how they would have loved to have similar programs in their high schools, their colleges. These women didn’t have the same support that we’ve had through FIRST, and it became apparent to me then that I had advantages that could be shared with so many other girls, and that moment was especially motivating. We also had the chance to gain insight about how to broaden our outreach work; to do this, we attended panels and workshops geared toward developing diversity efforts. I learned that respect is a professional skill, and outreach for females should dispel myths about women in engineering while remaining careful not to perpetuate stereotypes.

Respect for other individuals and teams is at the forefront of FIRST ideals. This seems to be common sense, yet what many don’t recognize is that this respect should be maintained from individual to individual, regardless of background. This should be kept in mind in situations in which a team member is of a different gender, but also when the person is of a different sexual orientation, race, socioeconomic status, or ability than the majority of the team. While some might disagree with the lifestyle or beliefs of an individual, FIRST is for everyone, and providing a welcoming, safe environment for all types of people will only help to further future technological advancements and discoveries.

Outreach and support programs for women in STEM need to strike a balance between two different approaches. These initiatives must consider dispelling the idea that traditional femininity can’t be combined with technical skills or knowledge, but they should also be aware that not all women like pink, sparkles, and dresses when so many don’t conform to that image. This is something that my own team is working to improve as we move forward, and this can be done by limiting the gender symbolism present on outreach materials. Utilizing the advice and knowledge gained at the SWE conference, I look forward to implementing these ideas to our YouGoGirl! program.

Currently, our team prints materials that are distributed at outreach events but generally pertain only to our team. To continue growing and expanding, we plan on taking each form of media one step further. For example, our YGG trading cards and posters now display the girls on FIRST Team 1710 and a couple of our mentors. They can be more relevant to other teams with the addition of mentors of other teams, famous women in STEM, and possibly other traditionally underrepresented groups. The idea of developing programs step-by-step each year can apply to every FIRST team, and it makes the task of creating an outreach program much less daunting to those starting from scratch.

So what should teams take away from our experiences with the YouGoGirl! program? Leaders of a team should work to educate all members about why diversity matters. This can serve as a conversation starter, as some individuals have the impression that diversity in a group is only for the sake of having varied statistics, but actually is extremely important for brainstorming and ideation. Teams should also self-assess to ensure that people with varied levels of experience can learn and try what they’d like on the team. Many girls have plenty of technical experience to draw from, but others do not, and they would likely appreciate a safe place to attempt to use new skills without fear of embarrassment. It is integral for all team members to be on board with diversity outreach or outreach to girls, specifically. The concept of a male team member wearing a shirt geared toward supporting women in STEM should not be viewed as a joke, as it requires the effort of all team members to create an inclusive environment. These steps are all very important to set the foundation before developing an outreach program.

Even our YouGoGirl! program, almost a decade old, is still growing. Our trading cards and posters will feature some new faces this year, and we are working on altering our logo to make it less dependent on gender stereotypes. In an effort to reach girls from many different situations, we’ve collaborated with mentors and other high school students to sponsor “STEM Connection” which support girls at Title I schools, and we’ve learned from each experience. Now, with over half of our leadership team being comprised of women, it is easy to not only see the impact YouGoGirl! has made on others, but also on ourselves.

Jordan Love

Director of Creativity

FIRST Robotics Competition Team 1710

FIRST Tech Challenge Team 9106

Olathe, KS

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