Zaina Siyed is not your average 16-year-old, she is the founder of the nation’s first all girl, all Muslim robotics scholarship program called FemSTEM which is comprised of students between the ages of 10 to 14. “What we are doing is attempting to create a new generation of Muslim girls who can embrace STEM (acronym for science/technology/engineering/math) and develop girls who have an interest and want to further STEM careers. We teach robotics free of cost.”
FemSTEM’s first challenge was a robotic contest at this year’s First Lego League where they were the only all girl, all Muslim group competing. For three months before the big day, the group met a few times a week at the Institute of Knowledge in Diamond Bar (a local mosque). The group’s robotic creation is named Rujellalley (a phonetic spelling of the Arabic word for robot) which is described as a “brain” attached to four wheels covered by a Lego shell.
At the competition, the group wore matching tee-shirts and purple hijabs looking darling and dangerously prepared. In light of the anti-Muslim sentiment and rhetoric many in the community have faced this year, Zaina’s mother was worried for the group but was soon relieved. At the competition, there was open support for the all girl, all Muslim techie team. Parents came up to them, warmly receiving them — one mother commented on the girl’s hijabs (proclaiming “we love your girls”) and another parent gave a tip on how to make the robot take a turn more successfully.
“If you do something good, people will remember you,” says FemSTEM team-member Salma Rashad, 14. “It’s a burden for us to make sure we’re always on our best behavior.”
In the end, FemSTEM won the night’s biggest award — for best overall performance.
“As a woman in STEM … [I’m] proud, hopeful for the next generation,” declared the competition’s judge. “I’m just so excited to see women, minorities, Muslims just really challenge those views some people have.”
And as for team coach Zaina — she says she now wants to expand on FemSTEM and has plans to coach other minorities.