Written by Klaire Tan
For most students, the name “Space Cookies” sparks little recognition. However, for a handful of girls, Space Cookies is a familiarity that brings to mind late nights of hard work. Space Cookies is a For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) robotics team established by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Ames Research Center and the Girl Scouts of Northern California for girls from various Bay Area schools. In the last two years, the team has nearly doubled in size, with 16 girls of the 38-member team being from Gunn. “Gunn girls are a major part of Space Cookies,” awards director senior Sharon Lo said. “They definitely contribute to the team.”
According to many Gunn girls on Space Cookies, being on the team has been a valuable learning experience that has shaped who they are. “Space Cookies forces girls to not be shy or scared of challenges,” Lo said. “It teaches us how to be leaders. There’s no one to hide behind [at Space Cookies].” Team co-captain and mechanical lead Cara Lai has been heavily influenced by the robotics team as well. “It made me grow up,” Lai said. “It showed me how tough situations can be, how to take on challenges and not be scared to fail.”
At the Space Cookies, Lo is involved in public relations and is responsible for informing the team’s sponsors and building public awareness. She has made key contributions to the team that have led to some of their recent achievements, such as winning the Chairman’s Award at the Silicon Valley Regional. According to Lo, the Chairman’s Award is often regarded as the most prestigious award of the FIRST robotics competition. It recognizes teams for their exemplary efforts in spreading the FIRST message. “Contributing to the community and making engineering accessible is the real focus of FIRST robotic teams, not just building a robot,” Lo said. “That’s the most important goal of FIRST.”
In order to spread the FIRST message, Lo helped organize many events for Space Cookies outside of the lab, including their summer robotics workshops and mentorships with middle and elementary school robotic teams. She and Lai later presented the team’s efforts to spread the FIRST message at the 2012 FIRST robotics competition. According to Lo, the quality of the presentation is crucial in determining the recipient of the Chairman’s Award. “You have to tell a story,” Lo said. “You have to present your team’s growth, past and future.” For Space Cookies, winning the Chairman’s Award was a momentous event that allowed the team to advance to FIRST World Championships.
As mechanical lead, Lai oversees the robot’s entire design and fabrication, coordinates game strategy and is on the field ever single match during competition. “There are people who come in a few times each week and are good teammates, but then there are the people who pour their heart and soul into the team,” freshman Elizabeth Chang-Davidson said. “They come every day and work for hours and hours, staying even later than late. [Lai] is one of them.” Besides being responsible for the mechanics behind Space Cookies, Lai is also involved in other aspects of the team. She regularly attends its robot demonstrations, mentors at the summer workshops and collaborates with representatives from fellow FIRST robotic teams in the Bay Area. In total, Lai estimates that she has contributed over a hundred hours to Space Cookies in attending outreach programs alone. “I go to a lot of different venues to demonstrate the robot for Space Cookies,” Lai said.
According to Lai, Gunn’s culture is responsible for Gunn girls having such a large presence on the Space Cookies team. “The culture of Gunn is very supportive of FIRST robotics,” Lai said. “People at Gunn are interested in doing robotics, period. Whether [it’s] at GRT [Gunn Robotics Team] or the Space Cookies. This mindset has definitely contributed to a lot of Gunn girls joining the team.”