Imagine being a novice pianist and being told that you are welcome to join a public piano competition against others who may have been playing piano for years? Does this feel like a welcoming situation? Now imagine being one of only a few people of your gender in the competition. Does that make it any more welcoming?
Though many students find motivation in the timed and judged obstacle courses of robotics competitions, for other students, that environment is a barrier. In fact, professors from MIT and Wellesley say that one of the four keys to attracting diverse students into robotics is to organize exhibitions rather than competitions. The Boston Museum of Science's Engineering is Elementary program agrees.
The professors say that exhibitions maintain the motivational benefits of a public display found in competition, while eliminating competition's alienating side effects. And today, exhibitions don't have to be in person; they can be postings of students' creations on social media. That's much easier on time-stretched volunteers and cash-stretched budgets.
The three other keys identified by the professors from MIT and Wellesley are are: focus on themes as opposed to challenges, combine art and engineering, and encourage storytelling through projects.