FIRST Among Equals
Members of the team with Joyce Winterton and Amber Straughn

Members of the Epsilon Delta robotics team meet NASA’s Assistant Administrator for Education Joyce Winterton (third from right). NASA Postdoctoral Fellow Amber Straughn (far right) also attended the event. Image Credit: NASA
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When White House officials held an event celebrating the anniversary of the Title IX legislation, they invited people who represented the impact and importance of the legislation.

The event’s guest list included luminaries like tennis champion Billie Jean King, Olympic athlete Dominique Dawes, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, former Senator Birch Bayh (the "Father of Title IX"), NASA's Assistant Administrator for Education Joyce Winterton -- and members of the FIRST Robotics team from Herndon High School in Herndon, Va.

The Title IX legislation was part of the Education Amendments of 1972 and guaranteed equal access for males and females to educational programs. It's best known for its role in providing female students with equal access to athletic programs, but it affected all aspects of educational programs, including technical disciplines, career education, scholarships and other non-athletic extracurricular activities.

Herndon’s participation in FIRST Robotics is an example of those academic activities and was the reason why White House officials invited some of the female students on the team to the event.

FIRST Robotics is a competition that challenges high school students to design, build and program robots to perform tasks better than their opponents. The Herndon team is a joint partnership between the school and NASA Headquarters. The team, named Epsilon Delta (a mathematical term meaning "big changes come from small differences," which is the team motto), was founded in 1995. Past team members have gone on to pursue degrees at top universities and technical careers with major organizations, including NASA. Epsilon Delta was a natural fit for the Title IX event. Since the team was founded, about half of its members and team captains have been female.

FIRST, an acronym of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is a multinational nonprofit organization founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway Human Transporter. The organization offers numerous science and technology educational opportunities for students.

NASA is one of several organizations that make the robotics competition possible by partnering with FIRST as part of the agency's support for its goal of attracting and retaining students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines.

Winterton cited the Herndon students as an example of the value of the opportunities that Title IX presents and praised their interest in technical pursuits. "Title IX over the years has opened doors for girls to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers," she said. "It is up to students such as those on the FIRST Robotics team to choose to walk through that door. These girls have made the first step."

During the event, Winterton discussed Epsilon Delta as an example of a competitive team activity that involves both genders equitably and provides students experience with teamwork and technical disciplines. Tennis champion Billie Jean King also referenced the team in talking about how geometry and physics were relevant to her sport and closed her remarks by shouting to the audience that "nerds rule!"

Dave Lavery, of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, has worked with the team as part of the agency's support for educational projects. Lavery said that attending the Title IX event was a great opportunity for the 10 female students who were able to participate.

"The girls were just ecstatic about the experience and could not stop talking about the event," he said. "It made quite an impression on the girls from the team, and I think they did a great job representing NASA and our efforts."

Related Resources
NASA Education
NASA Robotics Alliance Project   →
FIRST Robotics Competition   →

David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services