“The future is female” appears to be a common mantra in some places lately, especially in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields. This does not mean that girls and women are promoted at the expense of their male counterparts, but rather it means that they are included and encouraged to excel in all endeavors as well.
New this school year at Forsythe Middle School, the robotics club formed an all-girls’ robotics team. Not only did the all-girls’ team work well together and learn a tremendous amount this season, they were one of only six teams that made finals at a recent competition on Dec. 9. Additionally, they won the prestigious “Design Award” for their unique workings of their robotics. Eight girls are currently part of the all-girls’ middle school team.
Portrait of an Engineer as a Young Girl
Annalise Richmond is a 13-year-old 8th grader at Forsythe Middle School and a member of the first-ever all-girls’ middle school robotics team at the school— Forsythe Valkyries Team 15301.
“My Dad and my teachers got me interested in robotics,” explained Richmond. “From a young age, I enjoyed building and always wanted to learn more about what my Dad did at work—electrical engineering.”
She also had a great deal of encouragement from teachers.
“As I progressed through elementary school, my 4th-grade teacher, Mrs. McGee, introduced us to STEM projects,” Richmond explained. “I loved doing them, especially ones that involved building and testing. One of the major things that pushed me to join the team the following year was my 6th-grade technology education class introducing us to mechanics and graphic design—part of the PLTW program.” PLTW stands for Project Lead The Way, which provides programs and classes within STEM fields such as computer science, engineering, and biomedical science.
Richmond also explained the impetus for the all-girls’ team.
“In my first year of robotics, we had a very large team, so this year we decided to split the team,” she described. “The first idea was to make a boys’ and girls’ team, and at the first meeting, the girls were ready to start planning for the season, so we ran with the idea.”
The girls’ team is able to achieve significantly working on their own.
“I like working with the girls’ team because we work very well together and accomplish a lot,” stated Richmond. “Because we are a small team, we get to try a little bit of everything—programming, mechanics, business, and planning — which gives each member a lot of experience. Another benefit of having a small team is that we get to know each other better and form good relationships. I also hope by having an all-girls’ team, we inspire young girls to get involved in science and engineering.”
And the boys back up the girls when needed.
“The boys’ robotics team is very supportive of our team,” explained Richmond. “When we asked what they thought of the team, some said they thought we had a good work ethic and determination. Both teams have helped and supported each other throughout the season.”
They also have support from adults and high school mentors that help.
“This season could not have been possible without the constant support of some amazing parents and mentors,” she explained. “They constantly provide encouragement and insight when we need it. The approach all of our mentors take with helping us is very hands-off, which lets us learn to design, problem solve, and plan for ourselves. For example, they help point us in the right direction when we need help fixing part of the robot.”
As a whole, it has been a wonderful educational experience.
“I have learned more about mechanics and the engineering process than I can recount,” Richmond added. “The hands-on experience and professional mentoring over the past couple of years have been irreplaceable. On the girls’ team, not only can you see individual success, but a huge growth as an overall team.”
Richmond would like to become an engineer because she really enjoys the constant problem solving and building involved.
At another competition this year, the girls’ team placed quite well.
“This year in the annual FIRST tech challenge, the Forsythe Valkyries girls’ robotics team placed 12th out of a 38-team competition,” reported Richmond. “I am really proud of the progress that the team has made, especially since it is our first year separated from the boys’ team, and am sure the rest of the team feels the same. This year, the 8th graders of the team will be leaving, and I think they would agree with me in saying that we will miss the team and hope it does well in years to come.”
A Mentor’s Perspective
Haley Dalzell, in her first year as one of the mentors for the Forsythe Middle School robotics team, has been mentoring the Skyline High School team since last year.
“I was on FIRST robotics teams in middle and elementary school, so I wanted to give back as a mentor,” explained Dalzell.
She is a controls software engineer at General Motors and works in Active Safety on semi-autonomous vehicles, which requires robotics knowledge.
“I help the girls set up the phones and electronic connections, and teach them how to add lines of code to make the motors move when they press buttons on the controller,” stated Dalzell.
Dalzell believes there are many benefits to an all-girls’ team.
“I think it (an all-girls’ team) helps give the girls confidence in their skills, without allowing or relying on the boys to take over,” discussed Dalzell. “As long as the girls don’t feel like they are being singled out as ‘needing more help than the boys do,’ then I think it is great to have an all girls’ team.”
One of the many strengths of the girls’ team is the manner in which they work together.
“The girls do a great job tackling each task as a group and coming to decisions together,” explained Dalzell. “They seem wary of breaking into sub teams to divide and conquer multiple tasks at once, but overall, they are very focused and are able to accomplish a lot at each meeting. I’ve been impressed with how driven they are.”
Dalzell believes that the robotics experiences help girls become more interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers in the future.
“One quote I remember from one of the girls on the team was ‘Making a robot seems really difficult at first, but it’s actually super easy!’ Being part of the robotics team helps them build skills and confidence in engineering and STEM and shows them a picture of what their job could be someday,” according to Dalzell.
Like Annalise, my father was an electrical engineer, and he inspired me to apply to the University of Michigan School of Engineering. He had humble beginnings as a son of immigrants, and he worked while he attended school to pay for college. As a prominent electrical engineer for one of the Big Three, he earned multiple patents over 30 years. Since I loved and did well in math and science, I enjoyed going to my Dad’s robotics and technology events. I ended up studying for four years in the School of Engineering and used all of my mathematics classes to earn a teaching certificate major in mathematics through the University of Michigan School of Education.
It is generally believed that a more balanced, equitable, and fair representation of women in the workforce would benefit both female and male workers alike as well as enhance productivity.
As a long-time teacher, I continue to promote gender equity in every subject that I teach, especially mathematics, engineering, technology, and the sciences, while providing a nurturing and accepting environment for all learners. My husband is an engineer and robotics mentor, and he was the one to ask Dalzell to mentor for robotics.