We began our eventful trip on Sunday, June 25, 2017! That day, we woke up early and started the 4-hour drive to Washington DC. As soon as we arrived in DC we registered for the National Advocacy Conference (NAC) as well as the National Coalition for Girls Schools (NCGS) conference at the very impressive Marriott Washington Wardman Park Hotel. We were taking part in NAC to speak to our representatives about providing funding for more schools to create after-school STEM programs like FIRST. That afternoon we attended conference prep sessions for NAC where we participated in icebreakers with other teams and learned about how the government works. We watched advocacy videos showing us what to expect in our meetings on Capitol Hill and we learned more about the Every Student Succeeds Act, which we were advocating for.
After wrapping up our Sunday preparation, the entire NAC group walked down to the Capitol building to take pictures. Our team took lots of fun pictures as well as an entire group picture with all the teams attending NAC.
After the pictures, we ate dinner and returned to our hotel room to prepare for the NCGS conference on Monday. We put the chassis project together and tested it in about an hour to have it ready for the conference and we rehearsed our presentation. After the long day of travel and preparation, we went right to sleep!
On Monday, we attended additional prep sessions with other FIRST teams. We got to hear from lobbyists and teams from MN, NJ, MI who had started advocacy conferences in their own states to learn about their experiences and any tips they had for us. We also got to hear about the impact of FIRST, and the studies that have been done to prove it, from Don Bossi, President of FIRST.
In the afternoon we gave a presentation on our chassis project called “Empowering and Inspiring Girls in STEM through Robotics” to a group of teachers at the NCGS conference, then gave them the opportunity to drive the robot around and even help us take it apart.
After the NCGS presentation, we went back to NAC and met with Jack, the member of FRC 4991 Horsepower Robotics at NAC, to plan our meetings with representatives on Tuesday. We discussed our goals for the meetings and created an outline of what we wanted to say. Then we spent some time practicing and getting ready for our meetings on the Hill. We were the only student representatives for FIRST from Pennsylvania. The only meeting planned that didn’t overlap with Horsepower’s congressional districts was the one with Congressman Rothfus.
On Tuesday, we began our day by meeting for breakfast before walking to the Rayburn House Building to meet with Congressman Tim Murphy. He represents the 18th district of Pennsylvania. We met with his Legislative Correspondent, Andrew, and sat at a small table. We explained FIRST, Girls of Steel, Horsepower, and asked for his support in pushing for funding for the ESSA Title 4 part A.
The next meeting was with Congressman Doyle. This time, we got to meet with Congressman Doyle himself which was an amazing experience. He told us about what he is doing for the Pittsburgh area and how he was in complete support for what we were trying to do for the ESSA Title 4 part A. He also said that he would like to find out which schools in his district don’t have FIRST teams and why. We offered to help any future newly founded teams get on their feet by providing the teams and teachers with mentoring and some of our knowledge of FIRST. We were very excited by this and are eager to begin work with Congressman Doyle this year. We will get in touch with Kate, Mr. Doyle’s Legislative Assistant.
We had to quickly go to our next meeting in Congressman Rothfus’ office because our meeting with Congressman Doyle had lasted over 45 minutes! We made it just in time and met with Twinkle, a Legislative Assistant to Congressman Rothfus, along with two of the interns in that office. That meeting went smoothly and Twinkle was very interested in learning more about FIRST and how Congressman Rothfus can help the organization. As we were walking out of the office, we ran into Congressman Rothfus himself. We took a picture and talked to him for a few minutes about the NAC Conference.
Our next meeting was at 3pm with Halie, a Legislative Correspondent, from Senator Toomey’s office. She, like many others that we had met with, was extremely interested in FIRST and our mission. She promised to pass along our requests in regards to funding for title 4 part A to the Senator himself.
After that, we went up one floor to Senator Casey’s office. There we met with Zachary, a Legislative Fellow at Senator Casey’s office. He told us that Senator Casey would completely support what we are trying to do and that he would be happy to tell Senator Casey that we stopped by.
Finally, we went to Senator Patty Murray’s office building for a meeting with Manuel, a member of the HELP committee. Instead of talking about FIRST, we gave him a bandana and pin to give to Senator Murray. She has a Girls of Steel poster, so we wanted to give her a bandana as well. Once we were done with that meeting, we made our way over to Rayburn House Building for a NAC reception. We talked to Dean Kamen there and he signed our ribbons. After we had finished talking to Dean, we met kids from other teams and talked about our meetings that day. We were all happy to be back at the hotel and get a good night’s sleep after that busy day!
On Wednesday, we went to two fun and informative receptions! First was breakfast with Sen. Al Franken from Minnesota, who spoke about the recent ongoings in the Capitol, answered questions for attendees, and of course, took pictures with us!
Next, we got front row seats to a Congressional Briefing with a panel hosted by Dr. Howie Choset from Carnegie Mellon’s BioRobotics Lab and David Kenney, the Senior Vice President of IBM’s Watson and Cloud Platform! There, we listened to a very interesting discussion about the role artificial intelligence may play in the future of our society and government policy, and why innovation can be very beneficial to the economy if taken advantage of properly. We also had a few minutes to meet with Representative John K. Delaney from Maryland, one of the co-chairs of the Artificial Intelligence Caucus.
Looking back on our trip, we definitely feel more confident in our Capitol Hill skills, from meeting with legislators to navigating important conversations to making our way around town. We are looking forward to following up on the connections we made on this trip to continue to promote FIRST and STEM education for young boys and girls when we get back home to Pittsburgh!
Finally, we would like to thank our sponsors for providing this amazing opportunity to travel to Washington DC.
Comments from the Girls of Steel NAC attendees:
“This trip was an awesome introduction to start to get involved with advocacy in government at a higher level!” -Arushi B.
“It was great to learn how the legislative process works and how anyone with a passion can participate in it. The representatives and their staff were thrilled to hear our experiences and were extremely encouraging of our advocacy efforts.” -Maansi D.
“This trip made me realize that it’s not as intimidating as you might think to talk to your representatives. It was also really cool to meet other FIRST people who are just as passionate about spreading their love of FIRST with the rest of the world.” – Corinne H.
“This trip showed me that there are lots of people who are eager to hear my story and support me in achieving what I set out to do. Meeting our representatives and senators was an experience that I will never forget. Everything I learned from the inspiring people in FIRST at this conference will carry with me for the rest of my life. I’m so grateful that I got this experience.” -Anna N.