FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is an organization that promotes a yearly robotics competition for youngsters. Teams compete for nearly $10 million in scholarships from some of the best science and engineering schools in the country.

Girls with tools vie for FIRST prizeThis year an exhibitor we met at the California State Fair will be vying for a FIRST prize. The Fembots is an all girl team from a Sacramento, California high school. The team has been involved in the FIRST program since 2001 when six senior girls built BOB, their initial robot. See coverage of another team from last year’s event here.

FIRST participants gain experience beyond robotic construction. They must become involved in web design, programming, public relations, fundraising, spirit, and community service. They learn about delivering a project on time working with limited budgets. Each team begins with a basic kit of parts that they must expand upon to produce a working robot.

Under "Spirit", you’ll see the Fembots dressed in bright pink, emphasizing the feminine approach to technology. The team members are among the few females involved in the technological competition. At the State fair, the Fembots were showing off their previous years’ achievements, when they caught my eye. For safety and privacy, the girls are only known by their first names, but you can read about them on their website. Jasmine was the girl who drew me into their industrial booth at the fair.

Fembot team's booth at California State FairJasmine, head of the CAD subteam, is a sophomore who wants to be an architect. An unusual girl, her favorite music comes from Bollywood movies, probably as a result of her dad’s influence. He is active is promoting and supporting orphanages in India. She also speaks Punjab. Since many of the computer engineers in the US come from India, she is in good company and ready to communicate with peers.

At St. Francis High School, the Fembots biggest challenge has been finding a place to work on their project. Another challenge is breaking through the traditional role women play in today’s society. The Fembots acknowledge that women aren’t usually seen as scientists, engineers, or technology experts. However, they say the team is out to change the stereotype. They have a strong student body to draw from. St. Francis High School, the largest all-girls high school in California. Established in 1940, it is a four-year, all-female college preparatory Catholic high school. Their technology courses focus on preparing students to become independent users of technology, for academic and artistic purposes.

Supporters of the team’s effort are drawn from nearby businesses, including restaurants and medical groups. Other commercial sponsors are local branches of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE); A T.E.E.M, an electrical engineering firm which specializes in PLC programming, radio telemetry design and SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition); and Expon Exhibits which renders booth designs for tradeshows.

FIRST’s goals are to encourage qualities of self-confidence, communication, and leadership while practicing Gracious Professionalism. The Fembots and adults who mentor and watch over them exhibited all these qualities. Look for future articles outlining their progress.