STUDENTS | June 11, 2021
Ceara Young will never forget her first competition as a member of the Collins Academy High School ‘Robo Chicks’ robotics team. Her team’s robot was bigger than everyone else’s and slightly over the size limit required to participate, so they got to work disassembling, resizing, and reassembling it to be able to compete. Pretty soon, students from other teams came over to their table to help them.
Fast forward a few years, and now students from other teams often come up to their table to ask them for assistance.
“Being the only Black female group around a bunch of males encouraged me to want to show that we were on the same level as them,” said Ceara. “We had a lot of fun together as a team. I’ll never forget when I thought I had broken the robot’s arm after trying to code it. Turns out, I had just been given the wrong instructions.”
Ceara and her teammate Ronisha Mayfield were usually the mechanical engineers of the team who were in charge of putting the robot together, while fellow seniors Brianna Townsel and Canisha Mayfield—Ronisha’s sister—led most of the coding. Canisha was inspired to join the team because of her fascination with how mechanical objects work; she recalls how much she enjoyed taking apart a stapler and putting it back together when she was younger.
“Brianna and I were really interested in coding, and I think we were asked to be on the team because we always turned our assignments in before everyone else,” said Canisha. “Even though I was told that we might be the only Black female team, that made me want to do it even more because I wanted to put my school’s name on the map.”
Canisha is quick to point out that with each passing competition, she noticed more Black students and female students participating. Her team has also made visits to different elementary schools to show off their robot and inspire a new generation of STEM enthusiasts.
These school visits symbolize how much their team has grown over the past several years. When they visited an elementary school for the first time, Collins Principal LaKenya Sanders-Sharpe says the girls were timid and did their demonstration without even talking. With her support and that of their coach—Mr. Lawon Williams, a teacher at Collins and the visionary between the school’s robotics and computer program—they became more confident and were soon giving entire presentations on robotics on their own.
“When I first joined robotics, I was so shy and scared and didn’t want my voice to be heard at all,” said Brianna. “I learned to become a leader and express myself. Being vocal for the things I believe in has led me to become an ambassador for a whole bunch of stuff.”
Mr. Williams believes offering robotics opportunities at the high school level gives students exposure to a topic they typically have no knowledge of and thus pushes them outside of their perceived limits. The outside-the-box thinking that the Robo Chicks have developed will definitely help them when they’re introduced to new subject matter and opportunities in college and beyond.
They’ve set the bar high for the next group of Collins students who add robotics to their list of extracurricular involvements, but they’ll also be the first people to tell you that being “successful” on the team can’t be summed up by a single placement or trophy.
“I think that other students should do robotics, and I think that female students who consider it a ‘male’ activity should want to do it even more to show that they can do it just as well,” said Ronisha. “We didn’t know one thing about robotics and definitely messed up a few times. But messing up is one of the best parts because then you know what to do next.”