From one robot maker to another
Women engineers mentor 100 next-gen robo-makers at FIRST competition
Six weeks of design, build and test. Now, the moment of truth.
Hundreds of students packed a Pomona, California, fairplex; makers of robots that would do battle at the Los Angeles Regional FIRST Robotics competition. The atmosphere in the arena, themed to recall the 8-bit video games of the 1980s, was electric as teams made last-minute modifications.
The competition brought together high school students from across Southern California to compete head-to-head with robots they designed and built over a six-week period. Raucous cheers bounced off the walls as each team's robot hit the arena floor. Operators, armed with controllers designed by their teammates, deftly moved their robots along the arena floor, picking up bright yellow boxes and depositing them into bins for points.
During a break in the competition's action, 100 of the young women behind the robots met with nine Raytheon women engineers at a speed-mentoring event in the conference center next door. Their mission? Share important lessons about making it in a field where women are often underrepresented.
"I am most looking forward to learning about confidence," said one of the students before the speed mentoring event. "I know women are held to a different standard to do things a certain way. I think that talking about it helps relieve the stress of wanting to be perfect in a society where no one is perfect."
The engineers encouraged the young women to own their chair as future leaders in science, technology, engineering and math - the subjects known as STEM.
"You need to play to your strengths. As you go through high school and college and then get into the workplace you're going to have an opportunity to find what your strengths are," advised Angela Juranek, a Raytheon Space Systems program manager. "My strengths are motivating and inspiring teams to get the job done, and that's how I ended up becoming a program manager."
As the young women rotated from table to table, the conversations covered a wide variety of subjects, from choosing a college to tips on navigating a career. Many of the attendees were interested in hearing the engineers tell their own career stories.
“’Higher education will open doors of opportunity,’” said April Sanders, a Raytheon systems engineer, when asked about her story. “These are words that I heard repeatedly as a child of a single mother and high school dropout."
In an ongoing effort to narrow the gender gap and increase diversity in the workplace, Raytheon sponsors FIRST Robotics teams from across the country. Employee volunteers spend thousands of hours coaching robotics team members and providing mentorship to students looking to make their mark in science, technology, engineering and math.
After the speed mentoring event, the next generation of robot makers charged back to the arena floor, ready to take on the challenges at the competition – and beyond. Juranek and her fellow engineers hope that the advice they offered will inspire the young women to join their ranks in STEM careers.
“I support STEM programs with the hope that I will be able to help young women see the potential in themselves,” said Juranek. “The new generation of women engineers approach problems differently than my generation did – I want them to be part of my future teams, sit at the table with other engineers and design incredible things.”