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.
We had the opportunity to speak with Lyla, a sixth grader participating on the all-girl FIRST® Tech Challenge Team 11618, “The Gremlins,” based in Chelsea, Michigan. After being initially introduced to robotics through a class at school, Lyla decided to take her STEM experience further by joining the Gremlins team. She had always liked problem-solving and was excited to learn how to drive a robot. Upon hearing this from Lyla when she joined their team, her peers and mentors quickly rallied to develop a solution that would allow Lyla to control the robot on her own, just as she had aspired to do.
Team mentors worked with FIRST Headquarters, FIRST® in Michigan, FIRST alumni, and FIRST Supplier REV Robotics, to identify and adapt the best controller options for Lyla, who has quadriplegia. After these groups consulted the founder of QuadStick (a joystick technology designed specifically for hands-free play) it was decided this specially designed joystick would be the best option to meet all of Lyla’s (and the robot’s) needs.
Once Lyla had access to the QuadStick technology, her mentors were amazed at how quickly Lyla learned how to use it. Mentor Mark Eberle said, “It took us longer to hook up the QuadStick than it did for Lyla to learn how to drive the robot.”
We had the pleasure of speaking with Lyla, 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: How did you get involved with FIRST Tech Challenge?
Lyla: My older brother participated in FIRST before COVID, and I attended some of the matches. I wanted to join robotics as soon as I was old enough. I saw the FIRST mentors at my middle school open house talking about our Chelsea robotics program. I rolled right up to the mentor’s table and expressed interest in joining and I was told they would love to have me join the all-girls team.
I was able to participate by sharing ideas on how to build our robot. I also drove the robot using a QuadStick, which is a mouth-controlled joystick. I really enjoyed cheering for my teammates. We all supported each other in the different areas we were each interested in. I enjoyed being part of a team.
FIRST Staff: What strengths do you bring to your team?
Lyla: Positivity, by cheering on my teammates. My teammates cheered for me, and I did the same for them. I really enjoyed the state-level competition where we got to cheer for all the different teams there. Everyone was so supportive of each other.
I’ve also had the opportunity to strengthen my driving skills to help our team reach our goals.
FIRST Staff: How might sharing your personal experience with joining the Gremlins team help / inspire other students?
Lyla: I didn’t know how I was going to help my team when I first joined. I was thinking I could participate by learning to program our robot, after all, I had spent the last 14 months learning to use a mouth joystick to drive my wheelchair and do my schoolwork on my iPad, so I figured I could do the same thing for programming. Programming was challenging and I felt a little discouraged. I was still able to participate in the brainstorming of ideas for the design and functions of our team robot. Then I was told that driving the robot was a possibility; it would just take some brainstorming and time to figure out how. It was so exciting when the QuadStick arrived, and we worked out all the bugs to make it work well with our robot. After that I felt like a real part of the team.
I am hoping that others who have limited physical mobility and think they can’t participate in activities that interest them will be encouraged by my experience and look at the challenge differently to find a way to make it work. Also, I hope other mentors and teammates, of any kind of team, will find ways to include all, no matter their abilities to be part of the team. I hope that I am showing others by just being involved that no matter what challenges you have there is ALWAYS a way to accomplish something, it just may look and be different than what most people are used to.
FIRST Staff: What have you learned about STEM, and about yourself, since joining FIRST?
Lyla: I learned more about how different machines are created. I learned I could do more than I thought I could, and I also met new friends.
FIRST Staff: Do you have any role models in the STEM field? Who, and how do they inspire you?
Lyla: I am grateful for our Chelsea FIRST mentors. Kirk and Sarai are my team’s mentors, but all mentors were very supportive and encouraging as I tried something new, and we all learned together. They encourage us to think differently about things and find solutions to our challenges, even if it wasn’t a challenge with our robots but the challenge of finding a way to be a helpful member of the team.
FIRST Staff: What is your dream career?
Lyla: Neuroscientist or actress.
FIRST Staff: What makes you feel empowered?
Lyla: Being able to help my teammates and mastering new skills.
FIRST Staff: What is your superpower?
Lyla: Super Speed...in my wheelchair, with my mind and driving our robot.
By building a team centered around the FIRST Core Value of inclusion, The Gremlins have fostered a team dynamic filled with Coopertition® and innovation, ensuring all students can thrive. If you are a current FIRST student participant and have a story to share, please send us an email to email@example.com.