In robotics, Park City girls are programmed for success
PCHS students fight back against gender stereotype
March 7, 2017
Like the rest of her peers, Kristina Schiffman knows that robotics, like many STEM programs, has long been seen as an arena largely reserved for boys.
But not anymore.
Schiffman and a group of girls at Park City High School are fighting back at that stereotype. Their teams — the Ladybots, which has been around for years in various forms, and the first-year Ultimum Dominarium (meaning "ultimate ladies" in Latin) — both qualified for the Utah state competition and are proving that girls, too, are programmed for success in robotics.
Schiffman, for one, got involved precisely to send that message.
"I knew already that it was a field that was populated by boys, so that kind of motivated me," she said. "I wanted to be a girl putting my foot forward and kind of starting a movement."
The robotics community throughout Utah has welcomed the teams, and offered plenty of encouragement, but the girls' peers at PCHS have sometimes been less understanding. Micaela Olivares, who joined robotics this year because her father is a programmer, said that when she tells people about being on a girls robotics team, some have sarcastically replied, "Good luck with that."
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That kind of skepticism provides Olivares with plenty of motivation.
"That kind of just shows that the message hasn't fully spread yet," she said. "We still have a long ways to go.
"It doesn't really hold me back personally," she added. "It kind of just makes me want to go at it even harder and try harder and every day do something more that can change other people's perspective."
While there is more involvement from girls than ever in the Park City High School robotics program, the school is no stranger to standing up for gender diversity. Erin Case, a member of the Ladybots, said that team has existed for seven years — with students who have since graduated — and has won several awards in the process. Kirsten Kevlish, another member, said that, given the Ladybots' success, having another team of girls by their side has been exciting.
The members of the Ladybots are hopeful Ultimum Dominarium will achieve similar levels of success, giving PCHS two female robotics teams for the school's competition to worry about.
"I was really excited to see another team because we thought it would be pretty difficult to bring in new girls into our team, but we were interested in doing that," she said. "So having a whole other team of girls is really exciting."
The Ladybots, whose members all participated in robotics last year, have done their best to help out the rookie Ultimum Dominarium squad. While they're two separate teams, they've formed tight bonds. That's a function of the culture of robotics but also of the shared experience of wading together into a traditionally male-dominated activity.
Together, one competition at a time, they're showing that robotics is for girls, too.
"All the teams are really acting as one," Case said. "So if you forget something, no question about it: Go to another team and they'll help you with whatever you need. That's the atmosphere that comes with robotics."