The Only Girl
Entry ID #: 3267
Created: Tue, Jan 10, 2017 12:29 PM
"The Only Girl" by Jia Dua
Team: 2915A (Lynfield College, Auckland, NZ)
VEX High School Division
Based in Auckland, New Zealand, Lynfield College Robotics started off in 2008 when VEX was first introduced in New Zealand. Initially the group consisted of just a small handful of boys and girls tinkering around with electronics in a little garage but over the years we’ve grown from strength to strength and have proven ourselves strong contenders in the world of VEX. We now have three senior teams running full swing in the VRC division and over 20 Junior members who are mentored by older students to help them gain and develop fundamental skills involved with all aspects of robotics. At Lynfield College Robotics, our core values are not necessarily to win but rather strive to be our best and commit every ounce of our passion towards that goal and most importantly have fun while doing so. Although VEX Robotics has been a wonderful competition that got us on our feet ultimately the aim of Lynfield College Robotics is to open the doors for any student interested in the subject and give them the opportunity to give robotics a go and provide them a platform to develop and pursue those interests. This is the story of a girl in the whirlwhind that is Lynfield College Robotics.
Transcript of Entry:
I recently stumbled upon a quote that said “the greatest pleasure in life is doing something that people tell you that you can’t do” and I realized, that this has been a running mantra throughout my life.
I still vividly remember a day all the way back in kindergarten; barely able to walk, barely able to talk - most of us were the size of a footlong subway - and I saw a bunch of boys playing with Lego. I was a shy little thing back then but curiosity killed the cat; I started sitting down, just about to play when one said “oh no! Girls don’t play with Lego!”
So, being the mature and unstoppable preschooler that I was, I tattled on them and eventually got to join in on the fun. Life was simple back then, little did I know while stacking towers taller than I: I’d already stumbled upon my passion - and also the main obstacle that would come to lie between myself and my goals time and time again.
My robotics journey had started; as the only girl.
The pattern continued as the same story fleshed itself out in a different context each time. Flash forward, day one, period one of my junior year of highschool; I stumbled into the classroom to find that I was the only girl - amongst a body of nearly 2000 students - who’d opted to take electronics as a subject. I can wholeheartedly say that a handsome majority of the other 30 boys in the class were nothing but gracious and encouraging towards me, but not without its hurdles. Living the 1:30 female to male ratio, being the very epitome of STEM statistics has been an eye opening experience to say the least but it was also relentlessly motivating.
That electronics class was the reason I found myself in a garage with three other boys learning to differentiate between lefty loosy and righty tighty as I gathered scraps of metal and attempted to build my first pushbot. That same novice day I also mistakenly referred to a “screw” as a “nail” and my teammates got such a good workout from laughing that they didn’t need to go to the gym that evening. Bless them, now even I can’t help but laugh but at the time it was embarrassing and humiliating that I was struggling with even the sheer basics. These boys were the type who wouldn’t hurt a fly - they didn’t mean any harm - yet they didn’t understand that for a girl who’d only ever been gifted Barbie dolls and makeup sets this was completely foreign territory.
We’ve all heard about the gender imbalance in STEM fields, you can see it in the classrooms and you can see it in the workplace, but that was the day that my eyes opened to the fact that, most boys (men - whatever you wish) want to see their fields grow and are more than happy to welcome women as a part of that. Truth is that the front doors are open for many girls these days, but when you step through them it doesn’t mean you’re automatically in. It’s the little things that make a big difference; patient mentors who are willing to show you different parts without judging you for not knowing the difference between a kepsnut or a locknut; teammates who will occasionally question or turn down your ideas - not because you’re female - but because they aren’t the best ideas; teachers who recognise that being the only girl on a team leaves you without a support system of others in a similar position - making all the little things, just that little bit more challenging.
Being the only girl, never stopped me, it only slowed me down. I would be a downright liar to say it was the hardest battle I ever fought, for truth is, later on, being the minority opened as many, if not more doors for me, than were originally closed. In every aspect my VEX robotics experience has been an empowering one for me as an individual and particularly for me as a female participant. I appreciate the absence of gender quotas and the focus on encouraging anyone and everyone to get involved in the program. I appreciate that the management have acknowledged that there must to be a link between the gender imbalance in the STEM field and the way that programs such as VEX robotics promote and make themselves accessible to females. But, above all, I appreciate that VEX robotics is about robotics - and having fun - it’s not about gender. We’ve seen just as many female speakers on stage at the VEX world championships as males, I’ve felt like I’ve been treated with the same respect and warmth as my male counterparts at tournaments and it’s allowed me to pursue the passion I knew I had for technology. Above all, this competition has shown me aspects of STEM that I didn’t realize existed and I couldn’t be more thankful.
The lessons I’ve learnt through competing in VEX and the wealth of knowledge I’ve gained from them is a vast ocean, in which, I wouldn’t even have dipped my toes in a conventional classroom environment. VEX has proven to me that there are tangible and exciting applications of the often dreary maths, science and technology we encounter in the school system. It has made me confident that STEM may be challenging (especially when your program gives you a debugging/disconnection error each time you press download, or your lift - which was working perfectly in practice - breaks on the morning of the scrimmage) but it’s not daunting. Nothing is more exciting than knowing that I am capable of creating some crazy cool things with a dash of hardwork and a pinch of practice. It’s showed me that it takes a village to raise a child, the village being the team and the child being the robot and that translates directly in the workforce: STEM fields have no boundaries - that’s what separates them from the rest. Somewhere in that limitless world there is a place for me and there is a way to incorporate my feminine side, the one that wants to make everything pretty and create the perfect experience for a user, with my passion for technology and computers - all without breaking a nail.
To the boys who’ve taught me everything I know about designing, building and programming, to the ones who’ve been patient, friendly and kind, to the ones who allowed me to decorate their robot with flowers and name it “Chuck” under the argument that it chucks balls when you’ve known full well that was also the name of my celebrity crush from Gossip Girl, thank you for giving me a chance.
To the girls I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with through robotics, we’re all on the same page; thank you for putting each other before the competition. Thank you for remembering that your school team is not the only team you’re a part of: we females have our own team. Every hour we dedicate afterschool to working on our robots, every competition that we turn upto, each time we prove those who doubt us based on that one deviant chromosome wrong - we win.
Today, at Lynfield College Robotics, where my robotics story first began; I am no longer the only girl. In fact, these days, I’m one of many. I’ve had the privilege of working with a team that recognises each individual for their own backgrounds and strengths and embraces them. We’ve won National Championships in New Zealand five years consecutively in the time that I’ve been a part of the team, world champs three years - and hopefully running. I am convinced that the sky’s the limit.