Using Advocacy to Close the Gender Gap

This story was published in the 2019-2020 Annual Report. 
Hilltopper Robotics Team 1732, comprised of girls from DSHA and boys from Marquette University High School (MUHS), created and built a robot that qualified for the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition World Championship this year. Even though the championship was cancelled due to COVID-19, the Dashers on the team learned beyond what a competition could teach them—practicing self-advocacy as they led, gained confidence, and worked together.
At the heart of every robotics team is — of course — the robot. Students pour their hearts, souls, weekends, and months into preparing it for competition. The blood, sweat, and tears were all worth the clinched spot at the Worlds competition.
Since its founding in 2006, Hilltopper Robotics Team 1732 has qualified for the FIRST Robotics Competition World Championship every year, except in 2018 and 2019, according to Madelyn Jessick, DSHA ’21. While they were unable to clinch the trip to Worlds the last two years, they earned a spot this year; their robot beat out 45 other robots and came out victorious in a best-of-three match at the Midwest regional competition.
Team 1732 competes within the FIRST organization. Each season, the team, made up of more than 60 members, must design and create a robot which will compete with other bots around the country in playing a specific game, like stacking milk crates or throwing frisbees into slots.
The team is comprised of several sub teams responsible for different parts of the bot. The mechanical sub team is responsible for building the parts, while the electrical team works on wiring. There are also programming, design, business, and strategy sub teams, and the newest sub team: spirit
and awards. Each sub team has two to four leaders.
While the teams work together to create an effective robot, their ultimate goal is to qualify for the FIRST Robotics Competition World Championship.
“(When we found out we qualified for Worlds this year), the seniors were crying; I was crying; the whole team was super excited about it,” said Mary Rose Otten, DSHA ’20.
Building a robot is no small feat. “It takes as much dedication and time commitment as a varsity sport,” said Jessick. “We’re in the build room at MUHS from 6:30 to sometimes 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and all-day Saturday for months. We tinker, solder, drill, cut things with saws, program, design, sometimes blow things up, and work together to build an incredible machine that honestly amazes me at the end of the season.”
Although the trip to the Worlds competition was never realized due to COVID-19, the DSHA girls on the Hilltoppers Robotics Team 1732 made the most of a season cut short.
While DSHA students know what it is like to work with and alongside other girls in the classroom, it is a whole new world when stepping into the robotics build room.
“The dynamic is really different than anywhere else,” said Otten. “Boys definitely outnumber the girls; the ratio is about 5:2. It can be hard for a girl to find her place on the team at first, but it is an opportunity to learn how to adapt.”
The biggest challenge for Otten was finding a voice in a sea of boys. Dashers feel confident in the safe, all-girls environment at DSHA. Participating on a team with MUHS boys allowed Otten and her classmates to learn how to advocate for themselves beyond the all-girls atmosphere.
Maritza Hernandez-Sanchez, DSHA ’20, was one of three leads — and the only female lead — on the mechanical sub team, comprised of 20 students from DSHA and MUHS. She said to be the one female lead was intimidating at first, and at times she felt as if she had to prove herself worthy of the lead role.
“It took a while for the team to see me as a leader,” she said. “I had to communicate well with them and show them that I could do tasks as well as they could,” she said, speaking highly of the experience to practice self-advocacy in a new, co-ed environment.
Despite the occasional challenges of working together, Hernandez-Sanchez, Otten, and Jessick all agree that Team 1732 is a family. They spend a lot of time together, form friendships, and the support of one another comes along with it.
As Otten and Hernandez-Sanchez move on to college, they will miss the teammates they are leaving behind.
“The other members of the team and the (adult) mentors always made me laugh and were great role models,” said Otten. “I don’t think I’ve met better people in my life. They are my second family.”
“I will miss the sense of community and family,” said Hernandez-Sanchez. “They are some of my closest friends. We joke around with each other, have traditions like stopping at Gillies for ice cream, and we all get along, like most families do.”
While competitions are a big part of robotics, the program has also led many of the girls on the team to consider a career in a STEM-related field.
Being a part of the robotics team allowed Jacquelyn Komas, DSHA ’20, to learn that she is passionate about engineering. Corporate sponsors of Team 1732, like Rexnord and Rockwell Automation, send some of their employees to talk with the robotics members. This allows DSHA students to ask questions about STEM careers and see women in the field.
Hernandez-Sanchez took a DSHA stage craft class that introduced the computer software AutoCAD in addition to being a lead on the robotics team. “It allowed me to bring robotics and academics at DSHA together, which helped me solidify my career path,” she said.
DSHA offers its students 39 STEM classes, of which more than a dozen are considered advanced. These classes allow girls to move from a foundational knowledge base into the ability to integrate and apply the knowledge of mathematics and science toward real-world problem solving.
An all-girls education and STEM go hand in hand: all-girls’ school graduates are six times more likely to major in math, science, and technology1— and three times more likely to consider engineering careers2— than girls who attend co-ed schools.
Because of the STEM experience, confidence, leadership, and communication taught at DSHA, its girls exceed in programs like robotics.
“I learned I’m much more confident than I thought I was, especially when I believe that I know what I’m doing,” said Otten.
“I learned I’m a pretty good leader,” said Hernandez-Sanchez. “I thought I would never have the confidence to be a leader, but it was a great experience I would have missed out on if I didn’t believe in myself.”
1 Goodman Research Group, The Girls’ School Experience: A Survey of Young Alumnae of Single-Sex Schools
2 Dr. Linda Sax, UCLA, Women Graduates of Single-Sex and Coeducational High Schools: Differences in their Characteristics and the Transition to College
    • Ava Depies, DSHA ’22 (left), and Isabella Nielsen, DSHA ’22 (right), work together as members of the Hilltopper Robotics Team 1732.


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  • Mick Dwyer
    This makes me so happy to read. I was with Team 1732 when DSHA joined us. It was the best decision the team ever made. So sorry that the season was cut short but I know that your experience will stay with you for a long time.

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