Inclusivity Helps Robotics Team Soar To Success

Macy Puckett, Staff Writer

Two years ago, women holding even half of the leadership positions on the Highlander Robotics Team seemed unimaginable. This year, the 31 person team includes 15 women, who make up nearly 50 percent of leadership roles. 

The FRC Highlander Robotics Team 8033 saw success in the 2021-22 season, advancing to the semifinals in the World Championships. 8033 has also seen success in the growth of their team, specifically with the rising number of women joining and becoming leads.

“Every time a new girl joins, it feels so exciting,” junior Valentina Prieto Black said, a co-software lead on 8033. “You’re watching women in STEM get more and more involved and interested.”

Sophomore Clara Murray, who joined the team this year, said that she notices a difference between her robotics team and other extremely male-dominated extracurriculars she has done in the past. 

“It felt really nice [to have other girls on the team],” Murray said.

Prieto Black said that the team environment is becoming increasingly positive. 

“With every new girl, the workplace balances out so much more nicely,” Prieto Black said. “We get more of a say.” 

Team captain and senior Alex Ware said that the addition of more women has contributed to more new ideas that benefit the team as a whole. 

“It has been really helpful,” Ware said. “Some of the most successful leads on the team are women.” 

Prieto Black said that being a woman on the team does not come without its challenges. 

“Most of the boys on our team have been doing this their whole lives, and with that comes a level of credibility,” Prieto Black said. “The girls just got into it in high school.” 

Junior Beck Peterson, a mechanical sub-team lead, said she is facing challenges similar to Prieto Black’s. 

“I notice [differences] being a female lead versus a male lead,” Peterson said. “I still have some new recruits that will assume that I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Although progress has been made on 8033, both Prieto Black and Peterson said that the team is still male-dominated.

“There’s still work to be done,” Peterson said. 

Through previous competitions, the team became aware of the large gaps in gender equity among other teams. Peterson said that even if teams did have women on them, they would typically hold positions in outreach, business, or publicity rather than working directly on the robot. 

“You look in the pit crew at who’s actually fixing the robot and it’s only guys,” Peterson said. 

Kevin Clark, lead technical mentor of the team, said that many teams that do not have girls in the pit are teams that do not have any girls in their programs at all. This is not the case for 8033, mostly due to their rapidly expanding program.

“Four years ago, we were 11 students in a garage,” Clark said, while standing in the brand new STEAM building lab that the team helped fund. “We’re about to hit 50 students this week.” 

Specifically recruiting women remains a priority for the team this season, said junior Matteo Scanu, a business lead on 8033. 

“As far as diversifying the team, that’s our main effort right now,” Scanu said.

It is not just PHS students who are enjoying the newly expanding team. Clark said that the outreach team has secured members from schools such as Head Royce, Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek, and The College Preparatory High School. 

 “We have never been exclusively Piedmont High and we are still not exclusively Piedmont High,” Clark said. 

Clark said that the expansion of the team has allowed more opportunities for students to focus on coding, design, outreach, and finances, further benefiting the diversity of roles that women hold on the team.

“The scale we’re at, it’s basically like a full fledged company” Clark said.