Profile of All Girls Robitics Engineering Team

Posted at 6:26 PM, Apr 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-01 20:30:05-04

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More than 3,000 teams of high school students across the world are preparing to design and build robots to strategically breach their opponent’s fortifications, launch boulders and capture the tower. It’s all part of the annual FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Regional RoboticsCompetitions being hosted in various cities across the world. 

For the first time ever, Boise State University will host a regional competition; in the past, Treasure Valley students have had to travel to other areas to participate. Several Treasure Valley teams will join teams from around the region at Taco Bell Arena March 31-April 2. 

The FIRST Robotics Competition challenges high-school students – working alongside professional mentors – to construct a robot of their own and compete in the ultimate sport for the mind that measures the effectiveness of each robot, the power of teamwork and collaboration, and each team’s display of “gracious professionalism.”

The regional event also marks the first time the College of Engineering has sponsored a team — the 11-member girl-powered Chickadees, featuring girls from high schools across the valley. The Chickadees had just six weeks to design and build a robot to meet this year’s engineering challenge.

The team has a number of mentors, headed up by Christine Chang Gillespie, project manager for the Institute for STEM and Diversity Initiatives. Chang Gillespie participated as a high school student in New Jersey, and credits the program for her lifelong interest in engineering. She went on to mentor otherteams as a college student and as an engineer, and based her master’s thesis on the program. 

“It’s a valuable way to encourage girls to pursue engineering and other STEM careers,” she said. “In high school I knew engineering was something I might be interested in, but I wanted hands-on experience in engineering and there weren’t a lot of opportunities at that time. This was so much fun and I got to use my hands to actually build something.”

The girls have been meeting since October and received their parts kit and details about this year’s challenge on Jan. 9. They had until Feb. 23 to complete their robot and bag it up, but have continued meeting to work on strategy and coding, design T-shirts and write thank you notes to their many sponsors, including the College of Engineering, Micron Foundation, Century Link and MJ Murdock Charitable Trust.

Leading up to the competition, they have been meeting three times during the week, plus Saturdays. As a rookie team, they had to focus on which goals were most important, and which elements of the challenge to let go. 
Their robot will be challenged by competing robots while attempting to breach defenses, maneuver around various objects, and lob boulders at their opponent’s tower. But they’ll also be judged on their sportsmanship and overall professionalism. For Chang Gillespie, those skills are just as important as the engineering skills.

“The highest award in this competition is really the Chairman’s Award, which is based on outreach to the community, team spirit and helping one another out,” she said. “It’s all about supporting each other and creating an encouraging atmosphere. You don’t see that in a lot of competitions.”

The public is invited to watch, including on the final day of competition Saturday, April 2. Visit for details.

Schedule highlights include:

March 31
9 a.m. — Field open for measurement and calibrationNoon — Practices matches

April 18:30 a.m. — Opening ceremonies featuring former NASA astronaut and Boise State distinguished educator in resident Steve Swanson
9 a.m. and 1 p.m.  — Qualification matches
5:45 p.m. — Awards ceremony

April 2
8:30 a.m. Opening ceremonies featuring FIRST’s Don Bosse, Idaho Governor Butch Otter and Micron’s Mark Durcan
9 a.m. — Qualification matches
1:30 p.m. — Finals
4:30 p.m. — Awards ceremony


Media Contact: Kathleen Tuck, University Communications, (208) 426-3275,

About Boise State University
A public metropolitan research university with more than 22,000 students, Boise State is proud to be powered by creativity and innovation. Located in Idaho’s capital city, the university has a growing research agenda and plays a crucial role in the region’s knowledge economy and famed quality of life. In the past 10 years, the university has quadrupled the number of doctoral degrees, doubled its masters degrees and now offers 13 online degree programs. Learn more at