The Future is Female: Springfield Robotics Beats Gender Statistics

An all-girls team is a rariety in robotics. In Springfield, it’s been the norm.


Photo by Hannah Pile

Bella McDonnell (11)

Housed at Kickapoo High School, Springfield Robotics is on the bleeding edge of gender diversity with one of the only all-girl teams in Southwest Missouri.
While numbers have been increasing, only 37% of VEX Robotics participants (the competition the all-girls team competes in) were female per a 2018 study by the Robotics Education and Competition (REC) Foundation.
“When we go to competitions, our girls team is the only all-girls team. And you look at other teams and they maybe have one or two [girls],” Springfield Robotics club sponsor Mary Cannella said.
Female involvement has not been as prevalent throughout the program’s history.
“With female participation when I first started I had to convince some students and some of my athletes ‘Hey, I think that you should do this. I think you’re capable of it,’” Cannella said.
Students create their own teams within the club based on factors like personality and desired group structure. Five years ago, three girls decided to start an all-girls team with each other, and it has been steadily growing ever since.
“Within a couple months they [the all-girls team] had two more students who were with them, so I think by the end of the season they ended with five people. All of those five came back for the next year and brought their friends. So then last year we probably had the most female participation that I’ve ever had, and we had up to 15 females,” Cannella said.
Team member and builder Emily Robertson explains that female involvement in robotics is crucial to battling gender stereotypes.
“I think having an all girls team changed the competition because instead of just competing against other schools we were also competing against the boys teams and also competing to prove that girls can do robotics, too,” Robertson said.
However, an all-girls team in a male-dominated club doesn’t come without struggles.
“It can definitely be challenging if the girls feel like they don’t belong. I think once a few girls get involved, more and more will start joining, and I think the more girls we have, the more confident they will be,” Robertson said. “I think it’s really easy to start doubting yourself and your abilities when you’re surrounded by people who might be seen as more qualified than you.”
Despite the unique challenges being a woman in robotics can pose, Cannella emphasizes that anyone can be involved in this club.
“It’s an international program that prides itself on everybody can be successful in this,” Cannella said. “It doesn’t matter what age, what gender, what race, anybody can do this.”

I think once a few girls get involved, more and more will start joining, and I think the more girls we have, the more confident they will be.

— Emily Robertson