Inspired Youth, Inspire You: The FIRST Student Point of View is an ongoing blog series dedicated to showcasing the unique perspectives of FIRST students about how to foster a more diverse STEM field, what they’ve learned from their FIRST experiences, and more.
Fifi is a recent graduate of West High School in Salt Lake City, Utah, who has a passion for both robotics and cheerleading. She believes that STEM and “traditional” sports, like cheerleading, have a lot more similarities than what people may assume if they’re basing their opinions on stereotypes rather than first-hand experience. When she was in seventh grade, Fifi started getting into computer science along with a friend of hers who was also interested in STEM. The following year she joined FIRST® Tech Challenge Team 10722 “Robo Raptors.” During her sophomore year of high school, she joined FIRST® Robotics Competition Team 3006 “Red Rock Robotics.” Fifi says that FIRST helped develop her ambition and drive to reach new heights. She strongly believes in the FIRST core values of Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition® and says that giving back as you push forward is essential. “It isn’t about competing, winning or being the best; it’s about learning and pulling people up with you as you grow.” She lives this out in both robotics and cheerleading by collaborating with her team members and making sure everyone has the resources they need to succeed.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Fifi, who shared her thoughts on her experience with FIRST, STEM learning, and how we can all help foster more diversity and accessibility in STEM fields.
FIRST Staff: Are programs like FIRST and career opportunities in STEM things you were aware of prior to joining your team?
Fifi: I was vaguely aware of those opportunities, but I thought it was more of a siloed school experience than a worldwide competition. I also thought of STEM in terms of individual skills like programming rather than how they all came together to form a career. FIRST really opened my eyes to all of the possibilities out there.
FIRST Staff: What have you learned about STEM, and about yourself, since joining FIRST?
Fifi: STEM is a social experience. You need to have your own personal skills, but you will often have to collaborate with others if you want to build something meaningful. You can’t build the best version of your solutions without others. You also can’t build the best version the first time. It’s a good thing to fail because then you get to learn and improve.
FIRST Staff: Do you have any role models in the STEM field? Who, and how do they inspire you?
Fifi: Two of my female mentors, Alison and Elena, inspire me because they are mentors on top of working in STEM. I find it inspirational that they teach and uplift in a way where you don’t feel like you’re being targeted as a girl. I never felt hyperaware of being a girl in a male dominated environment because I always saw authoritative female figures in robotics.
FIRST Staff: What makes you feel empowered?
Fifi: I feel empowered by knowing I’m capable of success. Having failed multiple times and knowing that I can rise above taught me that. Being able to point to a line of code that I wrote or see a kid that I helped teach makes me feel empowered, especially knowing that those changes will stay after I’m gone.
FIRST Staff: What skills do you use in both robotics and cheerleading?
Fifi: It always comes back to embracing failure and asking questions. In cheer there’s a big pressure to succeed. It’s very uniform and everyone needs to execute correctly. It’s the same in robotics where you don’t want your robot to fail on the field. Whenever I work towards my goals, whether it's practicing one dance or coding a single line, that fear of failing disappears and I feel present. Don’t let fear of failure stop you from growing and enjoying your experience.
[Another skill used in both robotics and cheer is] communication. Show up on time and be true to your word. You can’t do a stunt if one person is missing. Same with robotics. Know what expectations you can meet and communicate that.
FIRST Staff: What advice would you offer other students who are juggling robotics and another sport like you are?
Fifi: Know what comes first. You can give a lot of energy to both activities, but at the end of the day you need to have your priorities clear. It can be easy to forget that time-consuming activities are not always the most important, so try to spend time on what you care about and drop the less important things if necessary.
FIRST Staff: What is a misconception about cheerleading that you’d like to put to rest?
Fifi: Cheer is not for vapid people. I really learned discipline thanks to it because at the end of the day, you have to put in the work and develop your skills to be a good cheerleader.
FIRST Staff: Same question – but about robotics.
Fifi: Not everyone is addicted to video games or socially awkward, and joining robotics won’t make you that way. Your identity is separate from what you do. You become who you want to become. I personally became a better communicator because of robotics.
FIRST Staff: What’s next for you?
Fifi: In the fall, I am studying computer science at Harvard. College is the perfect chance to try something new and immerse myself in a new environment.
FIRST Staff: Is there any advice you’d like to give other students?
Fifi: The best principle is to focus on what you enjoy doing and to push yourself, but to also make sure you participate at the right level for you. I felt a lot of pressure at times to compare myself to others, but you have to focus on yourself and be genuine.