Recently, I found out that my old high school, St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls in Philadelphia, had a team of students participating in the worldwide FIRST® Robotics Competition. I was happily surprised. When I was a student there, the best option to pursue my academic interests outside the classroom was Mathletes, a mathematics-focused competition among area high schools.

After 15 years working in software development, including eight years at Comcast, I recognize how important it is to have more women in technology. Inspiring young girls to get involved with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is a passion of mine, and what better way to do that, I thought, than mentor the robotics team at my own high school. So I signed up and am now one of about 100 Comcast NBCUniversal employees mentoring the 36 FIRST teams our company is sponsoring this season.

My journey with the St. Hubert’s students began Saturday, Jan. 3 when I met members of the team, called the BambieBotz, at Upper Darby High School near Philadelphia. This was the local viewing site for the official 2015 FIRST Kickoff event, and it was one of 107 similar gathering spots that day at schools and community centers around the world. With so many students from all over the region gathered in one place, the energy in the room was palpable.

The main event at the kickoff was a video broadcast, streamed by Comcast NBCUniversal, which revealed this year’s FIRST Robotics challenge. That challenge is "RECYCLE RUSH," and it calls for the design of a remote-controlled robot that can manipulate a plastic garbage can, a hard-sided crate and a swimming pool noodle. Each team has six weeks to build its robot before competing on a field, gaining points by stacking bins and totes and also cleaning up "litter." Each team will compete in various local competitions and then move on to district rounds, then finally a global competition.

After watching the video, we walked onto the stage to see a mock field up close. We also received our kit of parts that we will use to build our robot. It includes the actual controller for the robot and a bunch of wires and other parts, including the bins and totes the robot will need to move during the challenge.

Afterwards, we went back to the robotics lab at St. Hubert’s to brainstorm ideas for building the robot. The girls spent a lot of time understanding the rules and parameters of the game, and strategizing what areas to focus on.  The girls were very focused on the task at hand, and I won’t be surprised if they have a working robot in just a few days from now.  I am excited for them to get their hands dirty building and driving their robot.  

As for me, it was my first time meeting most of the members of the St. Hubert’s team, and I admit I am kind of intimidated by the task at hand. But the girls are totally cool about it. They’ve risen to the challenge before, including by their attendance at the FIRST Championship in 2013 during their first year competing. The BambieBotz also won the Rookie All-Star Award that year. 

I’m also pleased that four recent graduates were there that Saturday to help out the team, sharing their experience and knowledge. It reminded me what a special community St. Hubert’s is and reinforced why I am there – to pay forward the experiences and knowledge I have, and to hopefully encourage more girls to pursue careers in technology.

Here’s hoping to a great season for the BambieBotz! I look forward to getting to know them better and supporting them through the weeks ahead.