Stepping Up and Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone
A Letter to Students
From Bailey Boehm
Sophomore, Baker University
Dear Future First Robotics Participants:
When I first joined the new Robotics team at Paola High School in Paola, Kansas, outside of Kansas City, the last thing I expected to do was build a robot.
That sounded great, except that I didn’t know anything about machines or engineering or tools. My teacher convinced me to join, though, by telling me the team needed members who could do public relations and plan events and write.
Those jobs sounded easy. At school, I had coordinated a blood drive through the community service organization, the Kansas Association for Youth—known as the KAYs. I signed up blood donors, got local businesses to supply bottled water, and then handed out crackers to students after they gave blood. My passion has always been helping people. That, I knew I could do.
At first, with Robotics, I stayed with tasks that felt comfortable. Our workroom was divided in half: One side, where the robot-building took place, had work benches, computer circuit boards, and all kinds of strange-looking tools and metal gears and parts; the other side, where the planning and public relations work happened, had computers and folders and stacks of paper. I always stayed on that side.
But one evening, when I was doing my official job, which was to document the season in words and photographs, an engineer mentor from the community, Nick Reuss, called me over to the robot side of the room.
At first, I felt uncomfortable. He was doing all kinds of big math calculations that I didn’t understand. My hands shook a little as I picked up the caliper, which is a tool for taking precise measurements. Then he taught me to use the round saw. Before I knew it, I was working on the robot.
I helped to make the arms of the robot, which we named H.Y.O.—short for Hybrid Youth Operation. For the competition that year, the robots had to lift tubs to score points. So, the arms were a crucial part. I was so proud that I could point to the robot, when it was winning in competition, and say, “I did that.”
That was a huge turning point for me: I realized that I could do something that I never thought I could. What else might I be able to do? My options seemed wide open.
The next year, my junior year, the size of our team doubled, and I served as one of the project managers. I had to help keep everyone on track, and I learned to delegate jobs and trust my teammates to get them done. The next year, I worked as a senior mentor, training juniors to take charge. And, because the robot design changes each year, I learned more about engineering and technology, too.
After that, I wanted to show other girls—and boys—that they could do the same. So, my classmates and I started speaking at local junior high schools about FIRST Robotics. Whenever we’d go into a school, we’d ask, “How many of you want to be an astronaut, an engineer, or anything related to science?” Almost no one would raise a hand.
But then we’d bring out the robot and drive it around—as a way to get their attention. We’d tell them about job options in science-related fields. We made sure to always have an equal number of girls and boys speaking to the students to show everyone that girls can be doctors and scientists—and a lot of the girls would get really excited about it.
That was one of the goals of our team, Team 1108: to overturn stereotypes. When the working season would start, sometimes it would be the girls who would turn in the papers and the boys who would build. But—as they did with me—our mentors really tried to make sure that everyone on the team took part in building the robot.
Now, I don’t have any problems with hands-on stuff. In fact, I’m studying premedicine at Baker University, in Baldwin, Kansas, and I will apply to attend medical school at the University of Kansas.
After I graduate, I plan to go into biomedical research, which I learned about through meeting a scientist who was a judge at one of the Robotics competitions. One day, I hope to use the skills I learned in Robotics—problem solving, persistence, and teamwork—in the laboratory.
I never imagined myself building a robot, but today I imagine myself in a white lab coat with test tubes, petri dishes, and microscopes all around me as I research cures for diseases. I see a way to use science to fulfill my love for helping people.
I encourage all Kansas City area students, and students everywhere to get involved in FIRST Robotics if you have the opportunity. Sometimes stepping outside your comfort zone is the first step to building your future.
This essay is an excerpt from the Kauffman Thoughtbook 2007
. To view a table of contents for the 2009 edition, or to order a printed copy of the publication, please visit our 2009 Thoughtbook page