Personal Essay

By Sofia Gillan
Southold High School

I joined my robotics team as an inspiring engineer, excited to explore my passion with others. What I didn’t realize until I went to my first “Build Team” meeting was that I would be sharing my passion with boys only. My girl friend, who joined the team with me that year, and I were left to fend for ourselves. The only girls on the team, we ate dinner at a separate table from the boys because we weren’t allowed to be in any of their conversations. Instead we focused on dedicating ourselves to the robot rather than their drama. So when I rose to a Drive Team position relatively fast because of my work ethic I was met with many comments of “we just ignore you during matches” and “you don’t actually contribute to the wins we get, but somehow you still get credit”. Unfortunately, this is common commentary for girls in STEM all around the world, and with small steps, that I hope to expand upon, I have created a working environment where girls are equal to the guys, both in respect and physical numbers.

Aerospace Engineering is said to be the most male dominated engineering field. I hope to be a part of creating an inviting branch of engineering that inspires more young girls to follow any career they want. I’ve known the career I’ve wanted to pursue since elementary school, but it wasn’t easy to keep it when people are constantly telling you that you’re “weird” or a “nerd” because of your interests. These mindsets that we have are unknowingly embedded in us at young ages and it unfortunately turns many away from STEM careers, especially those who have limited access in the first place. This is the time for girls to stick together so that we can become a force against the unwavering numbers of men in math and science fields. In competitive environments such as these it is the people in trusted groups and support systems who are able to reach the fmish line.

After my first season of robotics, I took the opportunity to speak to girls throughout my school, from ones who wanted to study STEM to those who had never even thought about the idea of it. The next year we had six new female additions to the Build Team. But I didn’t stop there, I wanted to make sure they had ample opportunity to choose what part of the Build Room interested them most. As one of two the year before I tried to learn about every part of the process, from design to sketching out plans to then prototyping and finally getting to the final design, so I took the chance to teach them each skill they wanted to learn, from running a CNC machine, to computer aided drawing programs, and even machining. These skills are ones that you are expected to learn in college, especially if you are going for engineering, but so few students have the opportunity to learn them beforehand, especially females. I am attempting to place them ahead of the curve, that way they never feel as if they are stuck behind anyone or anything for any matter.

The last thing I fixed was the dinner situation. As President of the team my senior year I sat down at the boys table and waited as the girls trickled in behind me, and now i get to watch the now single dinner table where everywhere shares different conversations, and trades ideas, with no mind to what gender they are speaking to, and I plan to bring this kind of energy to whatever type of environment I’m in in the future. The confidence that radiates from the girls on the team now compared to my first year changed the entire tone of the team.

I honestly thought it would be harder to recruit girls into the team, but what I found was that when they had a leader they believed would guide them through lessons, they were eager to learn. In the world we sadly do not have enough people willing to mentor the younger generation, specifically those who are under represented. At college next year I hope to foster an organization or add to one designated to girls in STEM hoping to inspire the upcoming leaders of the technological world. The outreach programs embedded at Georgia Tech drew my attention, as I know it will introduce me to people with a similar mindset, and together we could see a change in the world of engineering.