Aiming to improve girls’ participation in the field of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), three young robotic enthusiasts have launched an outreach programme, ‘Rocket Didi’. Students of Mumbai-based Aditya Birla World Academy’s (ABWA), Sanchay Gadia (grade 11), Vibhav Singh (grade 10) and Rishne Jain (grade 9) share their plans for ‘Rocket Didi’ with Dipta Joshi of EducationWorld.
Q) Tell us a little about how and why the three of you teamed up?
Vibhav: We are all a part of the ABWA Binary Bolts team that represents the school at the First Robotics Competition (FRC). During the team formations for FRC, we realised we all shared the same concerns regarding poor participation by girls in robotics and decided to do something about it. In a few months after the inception of the FRC team, we initiated the ‘Rocket Didi’ programme
Q) How will an initiative like ‘Rocket Didi’ lead to greater participation by girls in STEM related fields?
Sanchay: When we had no girls signing up for the FRC team, we spoke to them to understand their problems. Many of them (girls) mentioned they would have signed up but didn’t simply because no other girl had joined the team. It was the fear of uncertainty and limited interest that led to the hesitation. So ‘Rocket Didi’ was our response to the larger, widely known yet unsolved issue of fewer women choosing to make their careers in STEM related fields despite it being an important and interesting field in which women can do so much. The ‘Rocket Didi’ programme has successful women from the field of STEM share their experiences, insights, challenges and advice to other women out there making them aware about the opportunities in STEM.
Q) ‘Rocket Didi’ is an interesting name for the project!
Sanchay: The name had to have greater meaning and also be relatable to boost our campaign. While ‘Rocket’ signifies rocket science which is believed to be the most difficult of all science streams, ‘Didi’, meaning sister in Hindi gives respect and addresses all the women out there.
Q) Did other teams at robotics competitions too face issues of lower participation from girls?
Vibhav: No, in fact many other school teams not only had girls participating in large numbers but several of them had also taken leadership roles and were a core part of their teams. However, most teams did admit that in their first year, there were few, if any, girls participating.
Q) How will ‘Rocket Didi’ actually work?
Vibhav: ‘Rocket Didi’ works on the premise – ‘Success inspires success’. The encouraging words and stories of successful women leaders in STEM sends a message to other women about the amazing feats possible in this field. We are sure their successful journeys will dissolve any initial fear of being alone, out of place and the lack of confidence that other women have. We are hoping many women, inspired by the women we speak to, will be willing to take the first steps into the field of STEM before they string along onto a remarkable and fascinating journey of their own.
Rishne: Our first interview of leading and successful women in STEM was with Debjani Ghosh, president, NASSCOM on Women’s Day (8 March) this year. Other interesting interviewees include Ashwini Asokan, CEO, Mad Street Den and Geetha Kannan, founder Weequity. All these interviews can be viewed on the Binary Bolts FB page and have also been shared extensively on social media platforms to make them accessible to all.
Q) What kind of an impact are you hoping for in the first year and then in future?
Vibhav: Our core objective has been to inspire our peers (girl students) to not only join our school FRC team, but also their respective local teams. The larger goal, of course, is to inspire and encourage our audience to pursue STEM and take up opportunities available in it.
While little is set in stone, we wish to not only continue our current initiatives but also branch out to teach and spread awareness regarding STEM to school-going girls. We have already initiated one such campaign with the Pune-based not-for-profit girls’ school, Avasara Academy where we taught STEM and robotics to its less privileged students. It eventually led to them forming a robotics team altogether. We hope to expand on this initiative and continue to teach and provide opportunities in STEM in the years to come.
Q) Will ‘Rocket Didi’ remain an ongoing programme even after you all graduate from ABWA?
Rishne: We were able to launch the ‘Rocket Didi’ initiative with the help of our teachers, Miss Carrie and Prodipta Sir. They were our mentors for the project and helped to conduct meetings with such influential women. Since the ‘Rocket Didi’ programme is an initiative of the Binary Bolts team, it will continue to run and help our school as well as the community through its noble cause.
Sanchay: Rocket Didi will continue to operate with Binary Bolts since we need to keep inspiring and creating enthusiasm in women for the field of STEM. The objective, although originally was to attract women to our FRC team, has since evolved into something more and we feel that it is our duty to continue this successful and inspiring initiative.
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