When her daughters joined a robotics team, Jacksonville, Florida mom Kalai Sankar wanted to be supportive of her daughters’ interest. Sankar found that this new hobby became a real passion for the entire family and eventually she became the coach of their team. Noticing the gender gap in robotics competitions she realized there was a need for more female participation on every level – from the students themselves to the coaches, and so Shiva Robotics Academy was born. Now Sankar is training other moms free of charge to become Lego Robotics coaches for students age five to thirteen, and encouraging a passion for robotics and tech among young girls.
Sankar’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
We train mothers to become coaches of robotics teams, free of charge, so that more girls will be inspired to take up science and technology careers. “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family.” This is the gist of my whole experience with FIRST Robotics. I started my FIRST experience as an active team parent, with my two girls being on the team. With this new found hobby becoming a passion for all of us, I shifted my gears to become a rookie coach for a rookie team. “When people expect the highest from you, knowingly or unknowingly you have to shift your gear to the highest point. It is a tremendous privilege. It is an opportunity to rise beyond your limitations.” Moreover, I was the only lady coach in most of the tournaments that we participated then. I took it up, not just to feed my tech passion, but also to conduct the FIRST Robotics Class in a very structured way, so that it reaches out to more students. All that we had was 1 EV3 kit, 5 kids gleaming with excitement and 10 super supportive parents. This started my journey to founding Shiva Robotics Academy.
What followed the success of the team, was more and more kids jumping into FIRST to have fun, just like their peers. The Best Coach Award that I received in the State Championship tournament, scaffolded parents trust and turned my self-doubts into confidence. It was a moment of self-realization for me. Finally I found something, that I love, that I am good at and that the world needs…….especially something in which I can be silly and totally myself.
“I think, the best way to involve more girls and ladies is by training more mothers to take up the role of coaches.”
– Kalai Sankar, Founder of Shiva Robotics Academy
I would say our biggest success has been, participation in robotics competitions; it is a life lesson for all the kids, parents, coaches, mentors and volunteers. There are so many challenges that we face along the way. With every new challenge, we gain more strength, wisdom and character. The bigger the challenger, the bigger is the opportunity for growth.
I started as a rookie coach, and now it has grown into an entire business, helping other women coach robotics teams. We have participated in World Championships, several community outreach programs and Expos. We have crafted our raw talent into real leadership. In every tournament, there is always comparatively fewer numbers of ladies than men. I encourage all the team moms to be equally participative in all team activities. Our team moms cheer and dance their heart out in all competitions. We train moms to become robotics coaches. We won Innovators in Education Award for 2017.
Our top challenge is that for every 10 boys who enroll, we get 2 girls on our team. I constantly motivate the girls to never drop-out of the club, even though the boys outnumber them. Girls have their own sweet ways of expressing their robotics skills. We have had our girls build beautiful twirling ballerinas, intelligent beach houses with sensors, LEGO Disney lands etc. I think, the best way to involve more girls and ladies is by training more mothers to take up the role of coaches. I have personally seen girls thriving in dance, cheerleading and gymnastics, solely by the active participation of their mothers. So right now, we are on a mission to train more mothers to take up leadership roles to be coaches of teams. We conduct free workshops to train mothers. I am pretty sure, we will reach a point very soon, wherein we will have an all girls team.