by Camryn Ihrke of the Pink Eagles
Pink Eagles (from left to right) – Camryn, Amber, Sidney, Olivia and Jaley
As a young girl, I was always interested in trying new things. I would look anywhere for new activities to fill up my schedule. I did Girl Scouts, archery, gymnastics (I wasn’t very good at it), etc. — I wanted to do any and every club that I saw on the school bulletin board. So in third grade, when a poster for First Lego League Jr. went up on the wall, it was natural for me to bring my newfound interest in robotics to my parents’ attention. My dad is an engineer, so it was easy to get him to say yes (unlike with dance, karate, theatre, guitar lessons, tennis — you get the picture, I had unrealistic expectations). After my parents got on board, there was only one thing left to do: go to the meeting. So that following Thursday, I stayed after school and went to the gym. And to my surprise, there were 30 children standing there with me. But there was one thing wrong with the picture: There was only one other girl amidst a sea of boys! Turns out that girl, Olivia, was the daughter of the person who would end up being my robotics coach.
Now, I thought this whole FLL Jr. thing would be a fluke. I mean, the word Lego is practically a 10-year-old boy magnet. But turns out, I would be in roughly that exact same situation two years later. In the summer between 4th and 5th grade, I was granted a Girl Scouts scholarship to attend an expensive engineering/tech camp on the University of Michigan campus. Since we attended the camp through Girl Scouts, my mother thought that it would be an all-girls camp. So I, being the bright-color-loving 10-year-old I was, arrived at the camp wearing a bright blue flowing shirt, with some bright blue shorts from my favorite store, Justice. I got out of the car, excited to meet my hypothetical new best friend, and to my dismay, a boy hopped out of the car next to us and started walking in the same direction as my mom and I. Thinking it was just a coincidence, I kept walking and didn’t let it bother me. But then, car after car would roll up, and sure enough, boy after boy would hop out. As the building got closer and closer, I got more nervous with every step. Not surprisingly, when I opened the building doors, I was greeted with yet another sea of boys. Not one other kid — out of at least 50 — in the room was a girl! Flash forward to the end of the day, where all the camp-goers were waiting outside for their parents. I was exhausted. Throughout the entire day, I had hardly talked to anyone. Practically the only people who talked to me were the counselors, and those awkward conversations were out of pity! I was almost in tears, and there I was, playing camp games with my new peers. It took forever for them to finally release us, and when they did, I walked back to my family, slumped into the car, and began crying. After that, I contemplated quitting. But, since I really wanted to learn about technology, I rolled out of my bed the next day, put on some more bright clothing, and went to the University of Michigan the second day, and the third day, and the fourth day, and, finally, the fifth day. Because I knew that I wanted to do technology, and no group of boys can stop me from my pursuit of happiness!
Those two little stories lead me here, today. These past few years, I have been on an all-girls robotics team, The Pink Eagles, with Olivia, and competed in three seasons of FLL, one season of the Wonder League Robotics Competition, and one season of Robofest. During these years, our robotics team has won 1st place at all three of our regional FLL tournaments, and last year we won 2nd place at our state FLL competition and advanced to the North American Championship at Legoland, California. Finally, we won 1st place at the Wonder League Robotics Competition. Sadly, all of our robotics team has aged out of our usual competitions. So, Olivia and I will be mentoring the new members of The Pink Eagles, as well as working to earn our Girl Scout Silver Award to get younger girls interested in robotics. Although my experience with robotics got off to a rocky start, and I know that other girls may have similar experiences too, I hope that young girls persevere and follow their dreams. Because no fear or intimidation of any sort should be able to stop anyone from following their dreams.
Sep 13, 2017
Frank Tappen currently resides in Hartland, Mich., with his wife and four kids. They own a small shop called The Mentors Robot Shop that offers robotics classes for kids in grades K-8. Frank has coached youth football, Science Olympiad, Jr. FLL, FLL, FRC, WRO, and Dash & Dot robotics teams.