Girls’ excitement at robotics competition a victory

By Jake Sticka

Clad in uniform white, The Frostbytes claimed their trophy with a gleeful skip at the sixth-annual FIRST Lego League (FLL) tournament held at the Preuss School on Nov. 22. Despite the hardware not being for winning the tournament, the youthful exuberance with which the six women embraced the symbol of their advancement in an engineering competition represented a victory itself.

The tournament, designed by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) and The Lego Group for students ages nine to 14, attracted 36 teams and an estimated 700 people for a day of robotic competition.

The 18 highest finishing teams were qualified to compete in December at Legoland to be crowned the Southern California champion of FLL. The Frostbytes, who finished 23rd, were only qualified through a caveat of being the highest finishing team from the host school. This fact did not, however, diminish the joy which the all-girls team felt.

“In a month, we’ll be more than ready for Legoland,” Frostbyte member Suzanna Desea said.

In order to be successful in the competition, a number of engineering skills had to be applied to this year’s environmentally-themed game board. With this board, the students’ pre-programmed, autonomous robots were asked to score points via several unique missions, running the gamut from pushing balls to delivering polar bears to ice caps.

"[The competition] taught me how important it is to program good,” seventh-grader Iman Usman said.

In an age where women account for only 25 percent of the country’s workforce in computer and math professions, 20 percent of our engineers, and only 10 percent of our tenured professors in math and science fields, such excitement in engineering need be valued.

Larry Summers, Secretary of the Treasury during Bill Clinton’s second-term, was recently passed up for the same post in Barack Obama’s cabinet due speculatively to feminist opposition stemming from his hypothesis that innate gender differences could be partially responsible for why more men than women succeed in math and science careers. Those comments, made in 2005 at National Bureau of Economic Research, would eventually lead to his ouster as Harvard’s president.

In the same speech, however, Summers also raised a number of other points that our country should be using as a blueprint for rectifying this disproportion in female involvement. He called for further efforts in socialization for women in the sciences, as well as breaking education cycles that are friendlier to boys learning math and science.

Going forward, we should look to programs like FLL to do the heavy-lifting in this regard. If we are able to get women involved in robotics and the ilk early, before preconceptions and social expectations set in, the enthusiasm that they feel for these fields will not wear easily as time passes. The joy on the faces of the Frostbytes at their advancement will attest to that.

Jake Sticka, a senior at Preuss School UCSD, is editor-in-chief of the Preuss Insider.