Mentor Monday - November 10, 2014

Nov 10, 2014 Written by FIRST Staff

Today’s Mentor Monday blog post comes to us from Allison Phelps, an alumnus of FRC Team 1024, a former mentor of FRC Team 1747, and current mentor of FRC Team 1024.

We’d like you to write a blog post about your journey to the current point in your career. What were the most important steps that you took? Were there influential people or events along the way?

My path toward a career in engineering technology began during my junior year of high school. At that time I was taking A+ Certification and thought that I might want to pursue a career in computer repair or IT. My teacher was working on starting an FRC team and invited me to come try it out. Over my two years on the team, I learned I enjoyed the challenges of mechanical design, and my mentors helped me decide that a career in engineering technology would be a better fit.

As a student at Purdue there typically were usually only a few girls in my Mechanical Engineering Technology classes. I think some of my success in college was to not think of myself as different. When working in groups I recognized that I had skills to bring to the project just like everyone else, and by stepping up to the challenges, was able to earn the respect of my peers. One case in particular was during an aluminum casting lab when we had to pour out a crucible of molten aluminum. While some of the boys shied away, I think I proved a point when I did it myself. I don't recall too many times after that where I didn't feel as an equal.

When I graduated, I went to work for a machine shop as an engineer. I found I had a lot to prove as I think a lot of young professionals do in their first job, but I also recognized my limits. It is okay to not be as physically strong as the guys, you just have to find other ways to achieve your goals and occasionally ask for help. I found a niche in their assembly department, designing and managing inventory while continuing to learn more about design and manufacturing. This experience, plus connections made through FRC, led me to my current job helping to design and build robotic mowers. Overall I think my drive and willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done has helped me get to where I am today.

We’d also be interested in your thoughts on how teams can engage the female students on their teams. How can teams better reach out to female students who aren’t on their team? How can teams attract more female engineering mentors? Are there successes from your team(s) that you can share?

FIRST helped guide me to the career that I have today, and I have continued to stay involved as a mentor because I want to help provide that experience to as many other students as possible. I feel that the presence of female mentors is one of the most important factors in increasing the involvement of girls in FIRST. Female mentors can be empowering to girls as they provide role models that girls can better identify with. In addition, when boys on the team are learning from a woman, it immediately eliminates any preconceived notions of girls' capabilities. As a female mentor, it is my goal to level the playing field for girls on the team. In doing so however, I am careful of the fine line between encouraging girls, and coddling them. If a girl is standing back when a group of boys are working on a robot, I will find a way to help her be included in the work, but I will not take a job away from a boy so that she can do something. When this happens, it puts the girl in a position that says she is more important, and prevents her from earning the respect of her peers. I feel that getting a girl involved on a FIRST team involves helping her find confidence in herself and then allowing her the chance to step up and take initiative. This also prepares girls for the reality that, until the gender gap closes in engineering, girls who pursue this profession will work in a male dominated work place. Fortunately, FIRST is a program that helped me and many other girls learn that they are equally capable and will eventually close the gap.

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