Nearly three years ago, Women in Robotics started a grassroots initiative to bring more female talent into the tech industry, specifically in the male-dominated robotics field. Now a global nonprofit network, the group is starting its newest chapter in San Antonio.

The San Antonio chapter of Women in Robotics (WiR) is the group’s only one in Texas.

Home to a fast-growing tech industry and longstanding learning institutions, the city was an ideal place for the group to grow, according to Stephanie Garcia, business development and communications specialist for Port San Antonio, which helped stand up the San Antonio effort.

The percentage of women in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — and more specifically robotics has been historically low, according to census data, but Women in Robotics is hoping to be a part of that change. 

The group’s goal is “to bring together a community that was siloed at one point,” Garcia said, adding that the tech industry in the past was insular and hard to break into, especially for women.

San Antonio’s WiR chapter will host panels and exhibits, host industry- and school-based robotics competitions and provide opportunities for mentorship through nonprofits like FIRST Robotics and Girls Inc. of San Antonio.

One of the program’s biggest goals is to “connect and engage with younger females,” Garcia said. The group aims to serve students locally throughout schools in the San Antonio area, beginning with Lutheran High School of San Antonio, which is a part of the FIRST Robotics program.

“There’s a place for everyone in robotics,” she added. The group’s website notes that nonbinary people are welcome in its various chapters.

WiR has already begun the work spearheading new efforts with schools like Lutheran, where students gain the chance to start their path into STEM while being mentored by a professional in the industry. Mentors both locally and across the country make themselves available to the students, who get to participate in activities like programming and fabricating robots in competitive settings.

“We want to be able to capture these young women in FIRST Robotics … there are a lot of volunteer efforts that I am encouraging our chapter to do,” Garcia said. “But more so, I’d like these ladies to get involved with judging, because they have that skill set.”

One of the first collaborators in this effort, the New Hampshire-based FIRST Robotics, works throughout schools in the area to introduce students to the STEM field through robotics competitions. Now the organization is partnering with WiR to extend the student experience.

“It’s not limited to FIRST. [The] big picture for this chapter is offering that mentorship [and] providing these young women in STEM support for careers they want to pursue,” Garcia said.

Ivy Vasquez Sandoval, a mentor in the chapter, is a San Antonio native and product of the city’s public school system who after over a decade in customer service decided to start her journey into tech. Now in leadership at Plus One Robotics, which specializes in parcel-handling robotics, she was chosen to serve as a part of the WiR San Antonio chapter. 

As someone who was not afforded the chance in high school to get into STEM and found her way in through a nonlinear path later in life, Vasquez Sandoval uses her voice to advocate for diverse representation within the industry.

“Highlighting the professional women, the working people … and who they are today is what will inspire and tell these young kids that you can get there, too,” Vasquez Sandoval said.

San Antonio has a vibrant heritage filled with different cultures, Vasquez Sandoval said, and she’s hoping to tap into that at Port San Antonio on the city’s South Side, which is also the area where she grew up.

“As the tech community grows, it’s important to recognize that this is a Chicano community that shouldn’t be ignored,” Vasquez Sandoval said. “You have a lot of opportunities for outreach and a lot of opportunity to get lower-engaged ethnicities involved in the tech field.”

A 2020 study by the National Science Board showed that the most underrepresented groups in STEM are the Latino and Black communities.

“I know what it’s like to not see a lot of people like you in the room,” Vasquez Sandoval said. “I am a transgender woman, and I found my own journey.”

WiR’s mission to collaborate with locally based companies speaks directly to San Antonio’s growth within the robotics industry.

 “We have a select few groups of companies to thank for the thriving start-up scene we are seeing,” Vasquez Sandoval said. “The world needs to see what is happening here in town so we can take advantage, for the betterment of everybody.”

WiR’s collaboration with groups like FIRST Robotics and Girls Inc. hopes to bring more awareness to the opportunities in STEM for women in K-12 grade levels.

As careers in STEM are becoming increasingly more popular, social media has also helped those interested in tech careers by giving better information on how to pivot into a career in tech. 

The WiR program is also aimed at reducing hesitation in women when it comes to their career goals in STEM, providing some of the top female and nonbinary voices from the industry across the country to guide incoming participants on their own journeys. 

The WiR San Antonio chapter is officially launching at a March 21 event, where keynote speakers and panels will be able to meet those interested in the chapter.

Solomon A. Wilson

Solomon Wilson is a native San Antonian who graduated from Texas A&M San Antonio with a B.A. in multimedia communications. He has worked in editorial, print and most recently, in public broadcasting...