The Upper School's computer science and robotics department is no stranger to winning awards. A Taipei American School VEX team has qualified for the VEX Robotics World Championships for the last nine years in a row. Similarly, TAS has qualified for the FRC World Championships for the last 6 consecutive years and has won 8 FRC Blue Banners, including the 2020 Chairman's award.
But this is the first year that a TAS VEX robotics team has taken home an award, not for robotics per se, but for an essay contest on a related subject.
The winning team? Five upper school robotics students - five students who just happen to share the same gender identity.
TAS VEX Robotics Team 4253A won 3rd place in the worldwide VEX Girl Powered pictorial essay contest.
Students Alicia W. ('23), Charlene C. ('23), Chia-Shuan Y. ('23), Kerrianne C. ('23), and Madeline L. ('23) submitted the award-winning pictorial essay titled "Beyond the 18 Inches."
The essay's title playfully refers to the size of a standard VEX robot, but the girls credit their own teamwork and collaboration for their ability to succeed both in this essay competition and in the more traditional robotics contests.
"We wanted to use this opportunity to spread awareness about girls having power in the STEM field and being able to succeed," said Chia-Shuan.
VEX coaches Mr. Nick Steckler and Dr. Carlos Delgado gave the all-girls team the idea to submit to this competition in November 2020, which they finished writing and designing in December 2020. The team says that they found out the results when they were all at home over the Chinese New Year break.
"When I saw the results, I was very excited," said Alicia. "I thought that all the hard work we put in was finally worthwhile"
Kerrianne tells the story a bit differently though. "I think our parents knew first and they were trying to surprise us with the good news, but it didn't work because we went online to find out for ourselves."
In the award-winning essay, the students describe Dame Zaha Hadid, a renowned architect, as their role model and source of daily inspiration. Hadid's well-known buildings include the "Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center in Azerbaijan and the Vitra Fire Station in Germany, but they say that the reason they really look up to her is for her entrepreneurial spirit, her ambition, and her resilience in the face of gender discrimination.
"When she was working in the field, she basically broke all the barriers of gender inequality," said Kerrianne. "She's probably the most famous architect, even among male architects. I think that's really important for us because she was top in her field, regardless of her gender."
The girls say that they also have a number of other role models a little closer to home.
"There are a few juniors and seniors that we look up to, but there aren't any female robotics teachers in the upper school currently," said Kerrianne.
But all five immediately said "Mrs. Maguire" after Kerrianne spoke.
Middle school science teacher, Mrs. Becky Maguire, is also the STEAM and Tech Cube coordinator for the Middle School.
"When she talks about science, she's very into it," said Kerrianne. "You can just tell that she's very passionate about robotics and science, and that kind of passion spreads."
While Dame Hadid and Mrs. Maguire might be this team's role models, it is clear that this all-girls team — one of the first at TAS — will pave the way for other young women to join the TAS STEAM curricular and co-curricular offerings.
"I think that just looking from people who participate in robotics, a lot of girls may feel a little bit scared to join because they don't really see people with whom they're more familiar, so they end up taking that out as an option," said Charlene. "I think that having us in the robotics program helps these students know that there isn't anything that they should be afraid about."
Alicia agrees. "Our main goal now is to be role models for other young women in middle school or lower school who want to join robotics," she said. " But I don't think we ever set out to become one if that makes sense. I hope that we have conveyed the idea to everyone that girls can be successful in VEX and the STEM field, too"
Madeline agrees. "We want all TAS women to know that robotics isn’t a single-gendered activity. Even though sometimes we may feel out of place, just know that we’re just as capable as boys are in robotics. Always believe in yourself and don’t ever think about giving up just because you feel like your chances are low.”