We are very excited to kick off a new blog series called, “Be sassy, be bold, be authentically you!” This series will feature a Q&A with the strong women mentors, coaches, teachers, and more within VEX Robotics and CS-STEM that inspire our young girls to aim high when it comes to their goals.
The first woman we are featuring is Mrs. Belt-Robinson. She teaches at St. Martin’s Lutheran School in Annapolis, Maryland and recently was nominated for the Teacher of the Year award in her county. She is also the founder and coach for VEX IQ Team 92509A: The Riveters. Let’s meet the talented and impressive Mrs. Belt-Robinson!
What is your role?
I am the STEM teacher at St. Martin’s Lutheran School of Annapolis and I am the founder and coach of the robotics teams there. My pride and joy are my all-girls team, The Riveters!
Who is your role model?
I actually have two. As cliché as this sounds, my role models are my grandmother and mother. My grandmother started college, at Bowie Normal College, to become a teacher at a time when African Americans could only attend certain schools. She unfortunately had to stop because of health complications. 50 years later, I attended Bowie State University, formerly known as Bowie Normal College, to fulfill my grandmother's dream. She was my first teacher, and inspired me to want to become a teacher. My mother was a tech woman when women really were not involved in that field. In the 90’s, she was in Who’s Who of American Women for holding the highest Microsoft certifications at the time. She is/was my idol! She taught me that when you show up in a room of all males to teach them how to use the networks you just installed, you strut in wearing heels, a smile, and an awesome outfit. You make sure they remember that you were brilliant, their equal, and beautifully female.
What advice do you have for young girls trying to make it in the world today?
Be authentically you and fall in love with that person. Don’t get intimidated by the images of beauty portrayed in the media. You can be brilliant, educated, articulate, decisive, and beautiful. Focus on yourself and not how you want others to perceive you. For girls who love STEM/STEAM, know there is a place for you in this field. There was a time when a woman who looked like me could not have access to this field. Because of trailblazers like Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the field changed and is now open to everyone. Be a trailblazer in a way that inspires other young women to walk boldly into male dominated industries, and own it!
Can you share a time where you felt you had to downplay your identity in this field?
In college, I thought the only way to be taken seriously as a scientist was to be “androgynous”. I thought I needed to be “one of the guys.” I wore loose fitting clothes, wore my hair in a tight ponytail, and tried to be the “nerdy tomboy.” I have no idea why I thought that this was going to make me appear smarter. It is almost like how people think wearing glasses makes them look cool, but for those of us who have been in glasses since childhood, we think it looks ridiculous. However, Dr. Elaine Davis called me out on it. After class she praised me for getting the highest grade on an exam and asked me why I was so quiet. She then said she remembered seeing me over the summer and I was “different”. I played it off by saying that I had more time to put into my appearance, and she laughed. Later in the year, I had to meet with her and she brought it up yet again! Sitting on the couch in her office, she changed my whole perspective on females in STEM. As the director of the Model Institute of Excellence, she wanted all of the females in her program to stand out. The Model Institutions for Excellence (M.I.E.) program, initiated in 1994, was a joint venture between the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The program was designed to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in STEM. She encouraged me to own my femininity because when people see smart women, they begin to take all women seriously. She reminded me that M.I.E. wasn’t made for mediocre students. A part of my excellence was/is my femininity. She also threatened to call my mom! This beautiful woman was funny, smart, and a force to be reckoned with. Because of that moment, I come to work looking sharp, makeup on point, and rock my personal style like my classroom is my runway. I want all of my female students to realize that smart and female, does not equate to weird and homely. I want to create the same transformative moments that Dr. Davis created for me.
What is a positive experience you can share?
OMG too easy! Last year was my school's second year in competitive robotics. I was so excited to have gone from 10 participants to 29! As I was forming teams, I had a group of sassy girls tell me they wanted to be an all-girls team. Of course, that has always been my dream! However, these girls did not want to compete in FLL like the boys. I tasked them with the job of finding a competition to go to and they came back with the VEX IQ Challenge. I knew nothing about VEX, had no equipment, and no money for equipment. These tenacious girls were determined. I reached out to a Maryland coach I found online, Tim Krispin, and he was so excited to hear that I some girls who wanted to join VEX. It was late October. He skyped them and told them all of the VEX IQ Challenge info. After that video call, I told him that I couldn’t afford to get their equipment, and he sent me the link for the Girl Powered grant. I applied, thinking it was a total shot in the dark, and we got it! It was that grant that made The Riveters possible. Those girls started very late in the season, made it to Worlds and gave me the proudest moment of my 15 years teaching. They not only changed the face of STEM for our little school, but the VEX Robotics World Championship inspired them to provide STEM opportunities to girls in the area surrounding our school.Recognizing that our school is sandwiched between four low income housing projects, they devised a plan to bring VEX Robotics to the girls there. The Girl Powered grant taught them that grants can make a huge difference. We applied for a grant through the Chaney Foundation and just received the funds to purchase 12 VEX kits to offer free STEM nights to those communities. The Girl Powered Initiative took a group of eight young women and turned them into eight female STEM advocates. They tell people all the time they are The Riveters because Rosie the Riveter was used to recruit females for a male dominated industry. Our drivers wear red lipstick because of an article they read while learning about Rosie. "The first and most famous manifestation of red lipstick was in fact in New York when the suffragettes took to the streets, banded together, and as part of their defiance and fight for the vote, they all wore bright red lipstick." They viewed Rosie red lips as an act of defiance against male stereotypes. Seeing their growth and hearing them educate other young women is such a beautiful thing! This has to be the most positive experience I have had in a LONG TIME!
Special thanks to Mrs. Belt-Robinson for working hard to inspire such a great group of girls, and to our friends at Robomatter for guest blogging this feature!
If you know of a female coach, mentor, teacher, or someone who inspires you that might be perfect for our new series, “Be sassy, be bold, be authentically you!”, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org