Anger. The look of complete hopelessness and confusion smacked across my face, my head down, fallen shoulders, dragging each foot, one after the other. I walked out from the tournament gripping the robot I had put my heart and soul into. The very same robot that had won every match and created looks of surprise among others. The same robot I carried into the tournament with my head up, proud and excited to show the world what I had been working so hard on.
What changed? How could I feel defeated even if in terms of the performance of my robot, I wasn’t? Let’s start from the beginning. The second I opened the doors of the building, my team of 10 girls and I were greeted with faces of judgement. People looking down on us with pity as we are the all-girl team that has a sub-par robot every year and only get recognition for our outreach.
During our robot inspection, not only were the referees not taking us seriously, but they decided to invent a rule and tell us we weren’t allowed to use one of our scoring elements. Unfortunately for the ref, we studied the game manual inside and out. We knew that he was being dishonest to us, and we respectfully fought back and asked him to show us that rule in the game manual. After getting all the refs involved, they quickly turned their heads and ignored us.
As I was leaving the inspection, I was confused. Why were they so adamant on proving us wrong? And within a week after the tournament, a new rule was released that was in correlation to the preceding argument with the refs.
Then in the minutes before one of our matches, we paired with our alliance. We needed to talk about the game plan with them in order to maximize points. Before I even said one word, they interrupted me and told me to have our robot stay still and not do anything so that we aren’t in the way. They seemed confident, so I agreed. While we practiced, their robot was inconsistent and I was getting nervous. I knew that our robot was not only consistent but scored the most points possible. I kept quiet and watched them continue to fail over and over again. Finally one of our mentors looked me in the eye and told me to be confident in what I’m confident in. She told me exactly what I needed to hear. I told the team of boys that their robot isn’t consistent and that not only is our robot consistent, but extremely flexible in order to rack up the most points. They complained and laughed in my face telling me to “just let the pros handle it”. At that moment I felt like I had just been shot in the leg. I wasn’t going to let them talk me down like that, so I had to become aggressive. I told them to let me show them just once that our robot will work. If it doesn’t then we can go back to the initial plan. Our robot worked perfectly and they rolled their eyes without saying a word and walked over to the match table. Unfortunately this saga of teams assuming that our robot was not tenacious occurred before every one of our 5 rounds.
When I left the tournament I wasn’t happy or proud even though I should have been. I was just angry at the world for treating me and my team this way. Why did we have to prove ourselves to every single team? Why was it that because we were girls and not traditionally exceptional in the robot aspect, we had to prove our worthiness to every single male in the building? However, I met a woman in this tournament that told me something I will never forget. She told me to channel my anger into a passion. And that passion is what my entire team works for. We created an organization to empower girls 2nd through 12th grade in STEM through the programs of FIRST, and that goal is something that doesn’t just stay within our walls. It’s what we are fighting for. My goal is to change the minds of men who believe women aren’t capable of succeeding in STEM fields. If I can change their beliefs, I can make it just a little easier for the girl going after her dream of being an engineer without knowing the path ahead of her is filled with people who will try to knock her down for it.