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Washburn Robotics Team Aims for Success and Gender Diversity

Ellen Eng and Sophia Vischer

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Walking into the Robotics team meeting is a bit daunting–it seems like everyone is everywhere at once, yelling to get each other’s attention and running around the room. When The Grist staffers announced that they were there to conduct an interview in the midst of chaos, a gracious volunteer, Erzsi Saly (senior and team manager), calmly directed us into the back room for the interview.

The Washburn Robotics team is no joke–more than 300 hours of work is put into the club resulting in a very demanding school year. The “Millerbots” are tasked with building a robot in six weeks along with other odd jobs such as marketing and STEM (Science,Technology, Engineering, and Math) focused projects. “Tensions can run high, as expected when so much time is spent together,” says Erzsi, “and team members are sometimes needed to be given the reminder to suck it up and act professional; the team matters more than the individual.”

When asked about the team’s gender diversity, Erzsi looks like she knew the question was coming. She says that the problem of only 20% of the team being female seems to arise from the early problem of disinterested being promoted among girls through commonly suggested gender roles. The subculture of STEM can be very sexist, and, as the grades go up, this is also reflected in school classes. Erzsi was one of three girls who was part of the team her freshman year and was the only girl her junior year. The group works hard to keep girls interested by telling boys that may get carried away to “let someone else try,” engaging the girls that tend to get pushed away, and by encouraging questions (the curiosity of boys is more likely to be encouraged compared to girls). As a club, the Millerbots has also been striving for more ethnic diversity as opposed to the “primarily all-white” team it currently is. This is an attempt to create a more visible and distinct team in the community.

Erzsi finds the robotics team a place for herself to grow, explore, and socialize as she develops friendships with her teammates. For the community, the Millerbots are trying to increase fundraising and volunteerism. They want to get young kids interested in STEM through programs that target children specifically. When asked about a global impact, Erzsi tells us that the community impact is happening on a global scale. They have made attempts to branch out and have even been able to meet three Chinese teams.
All in all, the robotics team is a good place to meet new people, exercise your mind (a “sport for your mind!”), and it’s fun. Building season started on January 9th, the competition is on April 6th at Mariucci Arena.

 

*Photo courtesy of http://www.washburnmillerbots.com

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Washburn Robotics Team Aims for Success and Gender Diversity