The Inner Workings of the Fe(Iron)Maidens, Bronx Science’s Robotics Team 2265

How have the FeMaidens utilized their different departments to function as a cohesive team?


FeMaidens FRC Team 2265, photo taken by Mariam Samake

Here is the FeMaidens’ most recent group photo, taken at the end of the 2021-2022 academic year.

The creation of the Bronx Science Robotics Team 2265 began with a desire for gender inclusivity. The ‘Fe’ in FeMaidens not only stands for iron, but also for all females here at The Bronx High School of Science’s women and gender minority team, the Fe(Iron)Maidens. With iron in their hearts, this team has been working hard to promote inclusivity in their communities and beyond since 2006. The Fe Maidens are succeeding in their goal and have gone on to win multitudes of awards for their efforts since their debut. But their journey has not yet ended. The Fe Maidens are deeply engaged in their 2022-2023 season, and they have admitted new rookies, in order to accomplish so much more this year. 

It was an awkward shift for the FeMaidens to get back to work after a year of remote schooling due to COVID-19. For many of the members, it felt like they were toddlers given a hammer for the first time. The pandemic was a time when the team could not accept any rookies, leaving them at an unprecedented low of around 22 people. So, when returning, the Maidens had to find a way to shift from the awkwardness of being thrown into roles they felt unprepared for. This gap was apparent when coming to the realization that there was no one on the team with three years of experience. Just like that, a year of experience slipped away, pushing people that had only been on the team for a year to take leadership roles when entering this new season.

The FeMaidens continued on with their efforts and grew the team to 44 members after returning from the pandemic, during the 2021-2022 academic year. Upon leaving their 15th season, they had amassed many awards, leaving the NYC regionals with both the Team Spirit award and the NYC Regional Finalist. After finishing that competition, they quickly worked on fixing their robot to win the Battlecry Competition with their alliance and to bring back the Best Battlecry award.

Upon entering FIRST NYC Regional after returning from remote learning, the Maidens did not know what to expect. The build season that was supposed to last 6 weeks extended to almost 10, and they were still making changes to their robot upon arrival. Despite their fears, they were determined to see if their efforts would pay off, and they surely did.

It started officially on Saturday, but some Maidens left early to prepare on Friday. The majority of the members got there Saturday morning to see if they would qualify and, as time passed, they started to believe that they would not make it. Despite that, they kept on cheering not only for their team, but also for the Bronx Science co-ed team, the Sciborgs. The cheers echoed repeatedly in their heads. Even today, team members remember the chants, “When I say 22, you say 65, 22!-65!” Even when their alliance was losing, they still kept the cheer going. When the day finally came to an end, they initially thought that they were out of the competition, but their efforts paid off, and they were able to go to finals. The next day, they arrived and, when the robot broke down during one of the matches, they quickly fixed it, in order to be ready to compete in the finals. Although they did not win the event, they did not stop their cheers and were in the finalist alliance. The effort that the FeMaidens put in allowed them to gain not only the NYC Regional Finalist award, but also the Team Spirit award for their continuous cheers.

After achieving these awards, the Maidens were set and ready for the last offseason event that the seniors would partake in during the 2021-2022 season, which was the Battlecry event. They quickly went on to repair the robot and got ready for a long drive to Massachusetts. As they did before, they made posters and cheered. The only difference was that the FeMaidens were on the winning alliance, winning the Battlecry event and also earning the Best Battlecry award.

These achievements were not just luck; the FeMaidens were able to be on such great alliances because the effort that they had put into building their robot was apparent. They successfully created the robot with the help of their system of four different departments. Meeting four to dix times a week during build season and staying after school until 6 p.m. under faculty supervision, the FeMaidens worked tirelessly. Their four departments each had an essential role in the creation of the robot.

The FeMaidens are comprised of four different departments: engineering, programming, electronics, and marketing. These departments allow for the members to pursue specialized roles in which they are most interested. Despite these widely differing position, each of them works together to create a successful team. Engineering creates the robot, programming makes the brain of the bot, electronics makes the robot come to life, and marketing spreads the voice of the team.

To Layla Stanton ’23, who has been with the team for four years, Engineering – the largest department on the team – is unique in its own way. “It’s the largest department, and the only one where members are split up into more specialized mechanism groups during build season,” she recalled, when thinking of how there are around twenty members in engineering out of a team of forty-six members and four departments. “The assumption might be that this makes our department less close-knit, but that’s far from true.” Stanton believes that this helps them to organize their efforts and become more efficient during competition.

Engineering works endlessly to draft and build a robot out of nothing but a topic. On the day of kickoff, the members could only sit in darkness and gaze up into a screen that illuminated the area. For both rookies and veterans alike, that view was unfamiliar but exciting, opening up to a new season of grind, with a theme of transportation.

Pev Vail, the previous head of engineering, felt the pressure that came with having to direct the team. “I had the team’s fate in my hands in a lot of ways, and I’d like to think I set them in the right direction,” said Vail ’22. “I think coming out of the COVID-19 years and having my last season on the team be our first year back in person, where we were rebuilding the FeMaidens, was particularly meaningful.” Despite having felt like everything was new and strange, Vail is glad that he was able to help the FeMaidens get back on track, starting everything without a blueprint.

Engineering is a fast-paced department where ideas that are worked on for hours can quickly be thrown out. Everyone on the team offers their input into helping to make the robot. Despite the hundreds of hours spent after school, the lack of sleep, and an occasional lack of motivation, the members still find ways to have fun and connect. “Engineering meetings frequently need to be shushed,” said Vail, when thinking of the high energy discussions they had despite the entrance of new members and the gaps left by the old graduated members that still remain. Room 006, where the team meets, is frequently left speckled with FeMaidens stickers and little robot drawings, along with screws that are constantly falling out of the robot and getting lost. “Engineering is messy, and chaotic, and we never finish all of our work on time, and there’s no department I would have rather sunk hundreds of annual hours into,” Vail said.

The students in the programming department are definitely inclined to agree; their work starts after the robot is decided on and designed. If it is not finished in time, then they have to speed up writing their code. In the meantime, they practice coding and have fun with the other people in their department. Jennifer Chen ’25, a veteran who joined during her ninth grade year, said, ”This year was fulfilling, as I got to learn new things, not only in terms of skill sets, but also in terms of learning how to work in a team.” Spending time after a long day of school helps the FeMaidens build relationships by creating friends in the team. The fast moving environment pushes them to contribute ideas that they think will help the team and the robot. 

Programming is the second largest department with nine members. They bring the team’s ideas together and give the robot the brain to move and perform tasks. Their efforts using code and JAVA allow the robot to listen to complex commands when in competitions. 

Within programming, Jennifer Chen believes, “we cheer our team up during competitions and also talk to each other outside of robotics.” This creates a sense of unity among the members. The FeMaidens are a supportive and relaxing team where people are allowed to explore concepts that they never knew before.

Moving around wires and melting them together, coding the board, and always having to search for that missing screw, are things that the electronics department deals with constantly. They learn consistently with every new task and discern which tools are used to make the robot work more efficiently, bringing the robot to life with their hands-on approach. They deal with mechanics and batteries and analyze different drives that they could use to help the structure of the robot be realistic.

The current captain of the FeMaidens, Bella Pensabene ’23, feels that, because electronics is one of the smaller departments on the team, their team is able to be more efficient and close with each other; having separate departments helps the FeMaidens to specialize and increases their productivity. Pensabene said, “I love my department, because there are so few of us. We share an amazing bond, and I love it so much.” The tight-knit group allows them to quickly share ideas and complete assigned tasks efficiently.

As captain, Bella Pensabene has to not only lead her own department but also guide the team. This task may be challenging and require more organization to cater to all of the departments, but, as Pensabene said, “the students here have helped me grow into who I am today and helped me fall in love with engineering.” 

Metals, wires, drills, and mechanics make up the robot, but how are the FeMaidens able to afford these items? The marketing department is not just there to paint and cheer, but they are the ones that increase the publicity of the team and find  organizations that donate money for the team to keep functioning. This department works in the background to keep the robot running. Marketing is able to increase the functionality by keeping track of the events that the team attends to use them to promote the team. With their efforts, the team was recently able to be featured in magazines, the television show Wonderama, and also to have a documentary film based on them. As important as the other departments, the marketing department applies for FIRST awards to demonstrate the team’s efforts, having won the 2020 prestigious Chairman’s award.

The marketing department is also tasked with constantly reminding the members to fill out required forms, showing what life is like on the team through their team vlogs, designing team merchandise and keeping track of stock. Even at competitions, their cheers help to make the experience more memorable for everyone. Cecelia Chu ’25, currently in her second year on the team, said, “I enjoy the FeMaidens more than other extracurricular activities.” Being a part of marketing allows members to create a closer bond as one of the smallest departments on the team. Due to this, Chu said, “I’m friends with everyone in my department.”

The unofficial head of cheer and the current head of Marketing, Tiffany Zheng ’23, has been on the team for four years and is excited for her first and final year as the head of marketing. She is proud of the efforts everyone has made on the team and is excited to implement new ideas for the team during the current 2022-2023 academic year. This team has been able to increase inclusivity beyond just gender so that they can unite their interests and bond to help people around the world. As a veteran of four years, Tiffany Zheng has seen the ups and downs of the team. “This team has helped shape my identity and helped me discover my love for marketing and communications, and the FeMaidens will forever have a place in my heart,” Zheng said.

Through joining the Iron Maidens, Zheng was able to create merchandise, create a new website, get new sponsors for the team to further their success in the long run, and help them achieve awards. These new experiences that she would not have had unless she joined are the ones that she will remember forever.  “I have so many ideas that I want to bring to life that I never thought I would have the opportunity to complete,” Zheng said. “I have so much love for my department, and I am proud of everyone on the team!” 

Being a part of the FeMaidens is not only about work, but also collaborating as a team.

Here is the Battlecry Competition where the drive team for the FeMaidens gets ready to compete while showing off their team spirit and determination. (Photo Credit: FeMaidens FRC Team 2265, Photographer Tiffany Zheng)

They have trivial problems such as deciding what to name the robot and whether or not to include LED lights. They have unofficial mascots for the team, such as plushies, which the members bring along to their meetings and competitions. Entering the FeMaidens may have been easy for the members, but, as more time passes, the team grows on them, and it is hard not only to see the members go but also to leave the team. This team has helped what Pev Vail has called “soft-skills” of collaboration with others. As a veteran, Vail said, “The worst part of graduating from Bronx Science was leaving the FeMaidens. People who come onto the team barely knowing or caring about robots still struggle to leave four years later. That wouldn’t be the case if the FeMaidens weren’t such a uniquely wonderful group.”

The FeMaidens continue on with their goals of increasing women and gender minorities in STEM related fields. They are currently deep in preparations for their 16th season during the 2022-2023 academic year and have accepted and trained their rookies in order to get ready for build season in the Spring of 2023. Just after the end of last season, they had a “summer of iron” to tutor children in robotics, and hosted the FRC picnic. They not only have plans for outreach, but they are also looking to do more team bonding from within the team and are still adjusting from the awkward shift because of COVID-19, having no members that are currently entering their third consecutive year on the team. 

Despite each member being on the same FeMaidens team, they have all had different experiences and moments that they hold dear. For Stanton, “This team has single handedly increased the percentage of purple and green clothing and accessories in my closet by orders of magnitude.”  

Zheng said, “This team is more than just building a robot or going to competitions. We are so proud to be FeMaidens, and we want to further our goal of uplifting women and gender minorities in order to pursue their love for STEM. We are making a difference every day in our world.” 

“This team is more than just building a robot or going to competitions. We are so proud to be FeMaidens, and we want to further our goal of uplifting women and gender minorities in order to pursue their love for STEM. We are making a difference every day in our world,” said Tiffany Zheng ’23.