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caption: Aparna Srinivasan poses for a portrait.
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Aparna Srinivasan poses for a portrait.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Evelyn Jiang

Putting herself FIRST: one teen's experience on an all-gender robotics team

STEM career fields — science, technology, engineering, and math — are traditionally male-dominated. But in FIRST robotics, Interlake High School senior Aparna Srinivasan finds community and belonging, despite the underrepresentation of women of color in robotics.

RadioActive's Evelyn Jiang interviewed Aparna about her experience.

[RadioActive Youth Media is KUOW's radio journalism and audio storytelling program for young people. This story was entirely youth-produced, from the writing to the audio editing.]


parna Srinivasan first joined a robotics team the summer before sixth grade. It was an all-girls team. Then, in high school, she joined FIRST, her school's all-gender robotics team.

"It was very intimidating because there were virtually no girls on the engineering sub-team of robotics," Aparna said. "And not to say that nobody was welcoming, but I just felt like there was no place for me there."

Aparna said some of her friends, who were also young women in robotics, had similar feelings.

"It's not like an outright, blatant, 'You can't do this,'" she said. "But I felt kind of a distance, or an inability to join in on some things."

But since joining, Aparna has been able to find a sense of community in FIRST. The team pushes values such as "gracious professionalism," which encourages competing teams to collaborate off the field and grow together. Aparna said this has created a very welcoming community, even at competitions.

I feel like as a woman in STEM, I can sense that sometimes I make the other girls on the robotics team feel a little bit more safe and welcome. APARNA SRINIVASAN

Aparna has racked up a lengthy list of accomplishments, like helping her team win awards and increasing efforts toward safety. She volunteers to teach younger students in robotics and has also done a lot of work to improve opportunities for other women and femmes in STEM.

"I feel like, as a woman in STEM, I can sense that sometimes I make the other girls on the robotics team feel a little bit more like safe and welcome," she said. "Because again, it's kind of intimidating going into like a team that's majority, like, random guys."

Now, Aparna said, the student leaders of her high school robotics team are mostly part of STEM's "gender minority," including women, transgender, non-binary, and/or gender non-confirming students. The leaders are also mostly students of color.

Aparna said she gained valuable experience with coding through FIRST, and she plans to continue pursuing engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Since this story was produced, Aparna has started a Bachelor of Engineering program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This story was produced in a RadioActive Youth Media one-week Intro to Radio Storytelling workshop for high school-age youth. Production assistance by Iz Ortiz and Lily Turner. Prepared for the web by Charlotte Engrav.

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Support for KUOW's RadioActive comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center and BECU.