FemSTEM Robotics in Spotlight for Second Consecutive Year
By Tehsina Raza
For the second consecutive year, FemSTEM Robotics, an all-girl robotics team from the Greater LA area, has won the FIRST Lego League (FLL) regional robotics competition.
Led by their seventeen-year-old founder and coach, ZainaSiyed, last year’s FemSTEM team of seven Muslim girls trained with a new team of ten girls. The girls spent months learning the basics of robot design and programming. On Saturday November 11th, the seasoned team won the First Place Robot Design award and the rookie team won the Second Place Research Project award.
FemSTEM graduates defy stereotypes of Muslim girls -- they are showing the world that Muslim girls can indeed be intelligent, confident, well-spoken and competitive. The victory followed countless hours working on Fridays and Saturdays in preparation for the Inland Empire’s largest FLL competition.
FemSTEM was created in July 2016. They are hosted by the Institute of Knowledge where ShaykhNomaanBaig graciously offered the use of a classroom. Zaina raised money through GoFundMe to cover the expenses of registration, robotics kits, and laptops (shared on her Facebook page: FemSTEM Robotics).
Utilizing years of experience gained at Stem Center USA in Claremont, Zaina sought to foster technology skills that she felt were lacking in girls in her community. FemSTEM’s unexpected 2016 win for First Place Overall team at the Rialto regional competition was extensively profiled in a prominent Los Angeles Times article and video.
Three additional videos have spotlighted FemSTEM, including Disney Pixar’s “In the Driver’s Seat”. Zaina has passionately advocated girls’ education as an invited speaker at various conferences, such as Google for Entrepreneurs’ Tech Inclusion and EdSurge Fusion, both in San Francisco, FIRST Championship Showcase in Houston, LA Tech for Good in LA and the STEAM Machines Innovation Fair in Santa Monica.
This year’s returning team includes: team mentor Salma Rashad (Chino Hills), Sarah Ali (Pomona), Sarah Khalid (Placentia), Zainab Khalid (Placentia), Salma Elgohary (Anaheim), Aneesa Ibrahim (Chino Hills), EshalVadakkan (Walnut), and MahaShowkat (Ontario).
This year’s rookie members include: Amaanah Ali (Pomona), Hannah Almuhajab (Whittier), ZahaAzam (Corona), Jenna Darwish (Fullerton), Sarah Hammash (Pasadena), Iman Haxton (Corona), Inayah Khan (Yorba Linda), Hiba Khawar (Corona), Nabeeha Raza (Huntington Beach), and Rheyanah Williams (Rancho Cucamonga).
Zaina’s parents and two younger brothers live in the Southern California area and moved there from the Middle East several years ago to avail of better educational opportunities. They maintain strong ties to the Muslim community and are of mixed Arab, Indian and Pakistani heritage.
Zaina has no plans of slowing down. Having expanded from one to two teams over the past year, she plans to train many more girls of all beliefs and backgrounds in robotics nationwide. Despite her age, she is thinking differently. She asserts, “College can wait. After I graduate high school in a few months InshaAllah, I will postpone college if I can find the right sponsors to help me expand FemSTEM exponentially and inspire many more young women”.