A FIRST Tech Challenge Alum's Life-Changing Journey
Vivian Stepp knows firsthand the transformative power of FIRST. Growing up in a poor Atlanta neighborhood, she saw early on the long-lasting consequences of a misguided youth. She wanted better for herself. Now a computer science student at Georgia Tech and recipient of the National Center for Women and Information Technology’s Aspiration in Computing award, Vivian credits FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) as the launch pad for her success.
In 2007, 14-year old Vivian was approached by Bart Sudderth, a member of 100 Black Men of Atlanta, an influential community group that sponsored an FTC team made up of five boys and one girl. She joined the team despite her friends’ reluctance, a brave decision that changed her life.
According to Sudderth, “Vivian was very quiet, you couldn’t get two words out of her.” With zero experience, she decided to try programming. Initially intimidated, Vivian got help from enrichment classes and the "RoboJackets,” a robotics team at Georgia Tech. Even though she picked it up quickly, the boys on her team tended to dominate. That led Vivian to form an all-girls team, “Team Success.”
Though extremely timid, Vivian had to help recruit other female students through presentations and take on a leadership role as lead programmer, co-captain, and eventually captain. “Taking a leadership role was tough,” Vivian said. “The most important skill I learned was how to communicate with others. I became more confident, even outside of robotics.”
Vivian’s four years in FTC paid off. She graduated valedictorian of her class, was accepted into Georgia Tech, and was named a Gates Millennium Scholar. Vivian is also a Mentor to other FLL, FTC, and FRC teams. Stepp commented, “It’s rewarding to go back and teach what I learned.”