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Girls of Steel Robotics

Girls of Steel empowers everyone, especially women and girls, to believe they are capable of success in STEM.

Girls of Steel is more than a robotics team; our mission goes past building robots for competitions. While building robots, we're building futures.



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January 2019
The world needs more engineers.

About the innovation

Build Robots - Build Futures

Girls of Steel Robotics members are the future STEM workforce, future inventors, and future innovators. It's not just about building a robot---it's about building their futures.

"My experience on Girls of Steel provided me with the tools and confidence to be an effective and empathetic engineer, team member, and leader. To this day, that confidence is what empowers me to speak up at work- where I am often the youngest and only female mechanical engineer in the room. As I continue to learn and grow throughout my career, I am reassured knowing that Girls of Steel has prepared me to tackle any challenge head-on." Naoka G., 2014 Girls of Steel alumna

This program is an outreach effort at the Field Robotics Center at Carnegie Mellon University using the FIRST® robotics platform of K-12 programs. FIRST is an international organization that provides the competitions to engage the students.   More than a robotics team, Girls of Steel Robotics is a program of FIRST teams and community outreach.

At the high school level, students:

  • lead the meetings
  • make the big decisions
  • build robots for competitions
  • embrace near-peer mentoring of younger students
  • run K-8 FIRST teams
  • design and write promotional materials
  • give presentations
  • and more...

Striving to help to close the gender gap in STEM by empowering more females in STEM, we work hard to give girls leadership, teamwork, and communication skills in addition to technical skills like electronics, machining, and programming that will last far beyond their high school years.  

"Being a part of the Girls of Steel Robotics team has changed my life because of the new skills I have learned from being on the team, including both technical and business. Even if I don't end up using the technical knowledge I gained, I will definitely apply the time management, leadership skills, and the understanding of trial and error." Ananya R., Girls of Steel FRC member.

The Girls of Steel pipeline (below) of FIRST robotics programs has multiple inputs, including FIRST teams, media, and outreach all ultimately leading to empower more women in STEM.  

Girls of Steel Robotics STEM Pipeline

Each year the Girls of Steel program directly serves about 180 boys and girls in grades K-12 from over 30 different schools in the Pittsburgh area who participate in all 4 levels of FIRST robotics - FIRST LEGO League Jr. (FLL Jr), FIRST LEGO League (FLL), FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), and FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) teams as well as local summer camps.  The FRC level high school students volunteer as near-peer mentors and role models for the students in programs serving students in grades K-8. Near-peer mentoring provides role models close in age to the students who find it easy to relate to their student leaders.  

One thing that makes the annual Girls of Steel FIRST LEGO League Skills summer camp stand out is that students, not adults, are teaching other students, and campers say that makes things really fun.

 "I'm glad to have them as mentors. They're never harsh. They're just great people." Patrick A., camper

Near-peer role model at summer camp

Mentoring students at Girls of Steel summer camp.

100% of the girls in the program graduate high school, 100% attend post-secondary school, and 80% major in STEM, as shown in the figure below.  In our annual survey we find 100% of the girls responding feel more confident in STEM at the end of the year and 100% are interested in having a career in STEM.  The FRC level team member retention rate for 2019 was 94%, indicating the continuing interest and commitment of the girls in the program.  

Results of National, FIRST, and GoS

Sources: More Than Robots: An Evaluation of the FIRST Robotics Competition Participant and Institutional Impacts. Brandeis University (2005)  High Schools in the United States: Quick Stats Fact. Argus. J. National High School Center at the AIR (2010) Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, AAUW, (2010) 

Not only does the program have an impact on its members, but Girls of Steel reaches out to the community offering a variety of STEM activities for both adults and children. Their chassis project workshop is described below. Read about other outreach activities on the Girls of Steel Robotics website here.

Throughout the year the Girls of Steel program offers innovative robot chassis building workshops to hundreds of people of all ages from kids who drop in at Pittsburgh's Home and Garden Show or the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh during Remake Learning Days to executives who come together for an activity outside their field. Participants build and drive a completely functional robot chassis in less than two hours. Our goal for this project is to show people of all ages that robotics is fun and approachable, and that anyone can build a robot!

Chassis Project Workshop

Robot Chassis Project participants and mentors

Girls of Steel does not discriminate in admission, participation, employment, or administration of its programs or activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, handicap or disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, creed, ancestry, belief, veteran status, or genetic information. Furthermore, as a part of Carnegie Mellon University, Girls of Steel does not discriminate and is required not to discriminate in violation of federal, state, or local laws or executive orders. 


Leadership Lessons with Leanne Meyer
Check out our blog post about meeting with Leanne Meyer.
TECH TAKEOVER: Girls of Steel | Season 2019 | PBS39 News Reports
TECH TAKEOVER interview with Girls of Steel
Check out updates about Girls of Steel...
We write blog posts about events and a newsletter - both are available on our website here: http://girlsofsteelrobotics.com/news/
Girls of Steel Hypatia, FTC 9820
Read more about the junior member program here and in the blog.
Closing the gender gap in the tech industry
“The reason there aren’t more women computer scientists is because there aren’t more women computer scientists," Jocelyn Goldfein, American technology executive and investorSTEM Fields And The Gender Gap: Where Are The Women?
Girls of Steel students have attended multiple STEM career awareness events from meet-ups with student members of Carnegie Mellon's Society of Women Engineers chapter, to a visit to Uber ATG which is located in Pittsburgh.  Guest lectures by roboticists  Henny Admoni and Jessica Hodgins,  as well as attending STEM panels at conferences like the Manufacturing and Technology conference in Pittsburgh are also important ways the students can meet and hear from STEM role models.
Proud to be from Pittsburgh: Girls of Steel
Proud to be from Pittsburgh: Girls of Steel
This isn't a robot.  (Produced by RadicalMedia)
Women in tech across generations: WWII code-breaker shares 'can-do' attitude with aspiring female roboticists
Women in Tech Across Generations
Meet the Girls of Steel: This badass robotics team at Carnegie Mellon University preps young women for STEM careers
Geek Wire March 2018
Ivanka Trump visits Pittsburgh's 'Robotics Row' and applauds an all-girls robotics team
Meeting Ivanka Trump on Robotics Row in Pittsburgh
Remake Learning Days: Robot Chassis Workshop
"I felt like it was fun and there was teamwork. That's nice because often that doesn't happen."
Resources for FIRST Robotics
Starting a FIRST Robotics Competition team Here’s a list of resources to start something like a Girls of Steel FIRST® robotics program which includes recommendations for mentors, facilities, and funding. 1) Lead Mentor: 1 lead mentor - technical skills not required, but helpful. Time commitment is 6-20 hours/week September to August. Additional mentors: 3-5 additional mentors willing to commit 6-15 hours per week.   2) Facilities: Space - 1000 sq ft light industrial space equipped with workbenches. Equipment -Hand tools (drills, wrenches, etc.) Machine shop if available (bandsaw, mill, lathe, etc.). Robot parts: Basics come with FIRST kit of parts. Supplemental parts available from multiple online vendors. It's helpful to have shelves for storage, computers, computer aided design (CAD) software, classroom materials, & wifi access. 3) Funding needs can range from $5000 to $50,000+: Competition registration is $5000 for first event (includes kit of parts) and $4000 for additional events (this is optional). Parts and equipment can cost $0-$10,000 or more. Funds are needed for team travel to competitions unless the team's meeting site is close to a venue. Additional funds would be needed for travel to championship competition. Helpful links
Daisy & Brownie Troops earn Robotics Badges
The little girls earned a Girls of Steel Robotics patch when they learned about robots to earn their Girls Scouts Robotics Badges.
Week Zero Scrimmage
"This was a tremendous opportunity to meet other teams, get the feel for the pace of the game, and, most importantly, work out some kinks in our robot and drive team."Read about the 2019 Week Zero Scrimmage at NREC here.

Implementation steps

Identify a group of students eager to explore robotics

After recruiting your mentors, find 5 - 10 students or as many as express interest. With technical and non-technical roles for the students, the kids interested in coding or marketing will have a place on team.

Invite students to an introductory meeting where they'll learn about the FIRST program.  

Also invite members of robotics teams in the area - they will be excited to share videos of competitions and their excitement about being a part of FIRST robotics.  Feel free to use and share  this handbook which describes the way Girls of Steel Robotics team is organized from the preseason training period in the fall to the competition season in the spring.

Train the students in technical and business skills

Each student is a member of a business and technical team. From September through December students learn both technical and business skills.

Starting with the first introductory meeting team members get to know each other through team building activities such as the human knot game.  After exposure to all technical and business sub team areas, students choose their specialties from the following technical and business opportunities: programming, design, electronics, or mechanical as well as  media, finance, awards preparation, or video.  The technical training and experiences are used to build the robots while the business training and experiences such as outreach presentations at conferences, writing a business plan, and organizing donations to a women's shelter build leaders and well-rounded students.

Attend FIRST Robotics Competitions

While building a robot is fun, taking the robot to a competition is even more fun and exciting. Students are proud of their work and enjoy working alongside other teams at the competitions.   

FIRST is an international organization with thousands of robotics teams in dozens of countries.  FIRST Robotics Competition teams in the Pittsburgh Pennsylvania area compete at annual regional competition events generally in Pennsylvania and neighboring Ohio.  Each event features 40 to 60 other teams and their robots.  Competitions are organized such that alliances of 3 teams each compete against each other with robots designed to meet various elements of the annual challenge. There are qualification and playoff matches which end with regional winners and regional finalists.  

Reach Out to the Community with Outreach Activities

After the competitions and before the next training season, the students reach out to the Greater Pittsburgh community by offering presentations, summer camps, and robot demos. By raising awareness of the robotics program we aim to work towards closing the gender gap in STEM.

Our annual Aspiring Young Women Symposium reaches middle school students in our community.  This year the symposium is called Aspiring Young Women in AI, Robotics, and STEM and we invited students in grades 4 to 8.  While this is a one day event, we also offer an annual 3-day Introduction to Robotics camp at Gwen's Girls of Pittsburgh, a program that empowers girls and young women, and an annual 5-day FIRST LEGO League Skills Camp to students in grades 4 to 8.   Each year we offer multiple robot chassis building workshops at schools and libraries.  Since the chassis project was created in 2013 we've offered nearly 50 workshops.  In addition, helping Girl Scouts earn their robotics badges is another way we promote to our community the relevance of STEM.  Read about our outreach and other activities on our  website.  

Develop your Program and Grow Your Teams

After establishing the FIRST Robotics Competition team and gaining experience with community outreach, it's now time to start FIRST teams of younger children.

We have successfully started multiple teams of younger children that are mentored by the high school students as near-peer role models.  FIRST LEGO League (FLL) teams engage boys and girls in grades 4 to 8, and can be the start of your own STEM pipeline when the 8th grade students join the high school team the next year.  The next step would be to start FIRST LEGO League Jr (FLL Jr) teams of boys and girls in grades K to 3, with the 3rd graders joining FLL the next year as 4th graders. 

At Girls of Steel, 8th and 9th graders first join the FIRST Tech Challenge teams and then, after shadowing FRC girls, they're ready to transition to the FRC team .

Learn even more about Girls of Steel in our Program Overview Booklet and be sure to check out our program pyramid of FIRST teams described on pages 15 and 16.

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