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Ahead of provincial tournament, all-girls robotics team seeks support from community


Strike up a conversation with Grade 12 student Brieann Wightman for just a few minutes and it's easy to see her passion for robotics is second to none.

This year, she joined the Amazon Warriors all-girls robotics team after her mom came across an advertisement for the group on social media.

"I came in not knowing how to do anything. But throughout the eight weeks we have to build our robot, I learned how to drill the holes in a specific space, how to use the big machines we have, what goes where and how it all works," Wightman said.

Those eight weeks of building all lead up to a series of FIRST Robotics competitions which take place through the school year, pitting teams from across North America against one another.

One of those competitions saw 34 teams from Ontario do battle this past Saturday inside the University of Windsor Toldo Lancer Centre.

Up next for the Amazon Warriors (recognized by FIRST Robotics as Team 6875) is the FIRST Ontario Provincial Championship, which takes place April 6 in Mississauga.

Unlike most robotics teams, the Amazon Warriors — which was formed in 2018 — is a community-based team, which has no affiliation to any one specific school.

This year's team has 14 members who are mostly in grades nine and ten.

"It feels like we all just get a voice," said Grade 10 student Paulina Long. "STEM fields are very male-dominated. But in this team, we get to share our own opinions, create new experiences and inspire other people to do the same."

According to Grace Foreman, a ninth-grade student at Holy Names Catholic High School, the existence of the Amazon Warriors is inspiring more girls to take an interest in robotics.

"This team shows that we can run things ourselves. We can be just as good as the men in this field, if not better. It's an honour to be on this team because we are representing women everywhere," she said.

Grace's twin sister, Ella, is also part of the team.

"I often talk to my friends about how the competitions are going. Some of them weren't really interested in STEM, but after the things that I've said, they've gone into taking STEM courses at our school and looked into trying to look to join a robotics team," said Ella.

Running a robotics team outside of any school affiliation can be costly, however.

Between registration fees and the cost of parts needed to build the actual robot, the team's co-lead mentor said the bill can easily exceed more than $12,000 per year.

"It's hard because Windsor has a high proportion of robotics teams. So there's only so many sponsorship dollars to go around," said Cherie Sulyak, adding the Amazon Warriors also has less build time compared to their competitors because their members attend different schools.

"We work out of CentreLine in LaSalle. They allow us to use their machines, and we meet once a week for three hours. Closer to competition time, we try and add a couple more hours in there."

However, Sulyak said, the continuous effort of appealing to the community for more funding is worth it.

Not only does the team also give its girls the opportunity to learn how to build a robot, it also boosts their confidence and public speaking ability.

"One of our little girls got up in front of 3,000 people and accepted an award for our team. [Some of] our members are speaking to judges and doing presentations. It's not just building a robot. It's everything else that comes along with it," said Sulyak.

As for Wightman, she said her ability to work with tools has vastly improved after becoming an Amazon Warrior.

"On a scale of one to 10, I was actually a zero. Now, I think I'm at a nine or 10," she said. "Hopefully, I can come back as a mentor after I graduate so I can help the other girls who are going to join us in future years." Top Stories

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