At the Javits Center in Manhattan last Saturday, hundreds of teenagers milled about in sneakers and safety goggles, tinkering with the robots they had brought to the FIRST Robotics Competition New York City Regional. Requests for parts (dowel rods, PVC pipe) boomed out over the PA system. Parents lingered near each team’s staging area, sporting their children’s team colors.
Robotics competitions this large haven’t been a standard part of high school for very long. The ability of so many schools to support teams that build semi-autonomous machines–or find enough kids to even build a team–is a fairly new phenomenon. One thing about the competition will be familiar to anyone who participated in a particularly nerdy hobby in high school: It was very dude-heavy.
But the team FORBES had come to see was busting that trend: The Fe Maidens–pronounced “Iron Maidens”–is one of two robotics teams from the Bronx High School of Science, a magnet school in New York City. It’s made up of 42 girls. The only male members of the team are coaches and mentors. (The high school’s other team is coed, and it’s neck-and-neck with the Fe Maidens when it comes to competitive wins.)
“It wasn’t until I came here that I realized that STEM fields are more than just a career,” says team captain Violet Killy. “I thought you could just start them after college, or during college, and I’d have to wait to get my hands dirty. And then I saw kids driving robots at Bronx Science, and I was like, ‘I want to do that.’”
The team was founded in late 2006, expressly to encourage girls to get into STEM and break down the gender stereotypes that are, nearly a decade later, still rampant in technical fields. Even the students who make up the Fe Maidens regularly hear people saying they’re pretty good at this–for girls. “We’re trying to get girls to realize that this is something they can do, this is what’s out there, it’s available to them, it’s fun,” says Killy.
To read the rest of this article, published in Forbes, please click here.