STEM dreams come true with Women In Defense donation

The Fusion Four team accept a $4,000 donation from Women In Defense to fund their trip to the 2019 FIRST Robotics Competition in Detroit. Standing behind the check, left to right, are team members Reira Erickson, Emma Hrabak, Devon Rudolph and Minah Sisco. Adults with the girls are, from left to right: Penny Gros, interim principal of Lake Braddock Secondary School; Rachel McCaffrey, executive director of Women In Defense; Ryan McElveen and Elizabeth Schultz, Fairfax County School Board members; Tameka Brown, associate director of Women In Defense; Ilryong Moon, Fairfax County School Board member.

BURKE, VA – Wearing custom-designed T-shirts and beaming smiles, the 12-year-old girls of the Fusion Four robotics team from Fairfax County, Va., schools accepted a $4,000 donation from Women In Defense (WID) on Thursday, April 11, to fund their upcoming trip to Detroit for the 2019 FIRST Robotics Competition.

The donation ensures that seventh-graders Reira Erickson, Emma Hrabak, Devon Rudolph and Minah Sisco will make it to the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League World Championship, April 24 to 27, vying among international teams of third to seventh graders in their division.

The check was presented at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, where Reira, Emma and Minah are students; Devon attends Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax. WID, an affiliate of the National Defense Industrial Association, also provided the team custom T-shirts with a design and color they chose.

Before a crowd of proud parents, administrators and school board members, WID Executive Director Rachel McCaffrey said what makes Fusion Four special is not only their interest in robotics and STEM subjects but also in their ambition and initiative.

“These girls are the problem solvers,” McCaffrey said. “They’re not looking to anyone else to solve the problems that face our country or that face them at school.” The girls, with support of teachers, coaches and family, designed a robot made of Legos to tackle problems associated with making untethered space walks safer for astronauts. In December, their idea beat 81 other ideas from teams composed primarily of boys, making Fusion Four the Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia representative in this prestigious competition.

“What really makes you guys great is you’re a team,” McCaffrey said, and as a team “you weren’t afraid to try and solve these problems facing you in this competition.” No matter how the Fusion Four does in Detroit, “no one can take away the fact that you worked together to build a solution that won the regional competition,” McCaffrey said.

Representing girls in STEM subjects is among factors that make this accomplishment so special, the girls said. “Women in STEM can do anything,” Devon said, while Emma added, “I love STEM, I love science and technology. I hope we inspire kids our age.” Reira and Minah said that reaching this achievement as best friends, whatever happens, makes the experience great.

Encouraging young women to pursue STEM subjects and careers is a key WID objective, and McCaffrey is sure this is just the beginning for the Fusion Four.  “These are the young women who -- 15, 20, 25 years from now -- will lead our country. They’re not going to ask someone else, how are you going to fix this problem for me? They’re going to say, let me tell you how we’re going to solve that problem.”


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Fox 5 morning show coverage of robotics team

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The National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) is America's leading defense industry association promoting national security. NDIA provides a legal and ethical forum for the exchange of information between industry and government on national security issues. NDIA and its members foster the development of the most innovative and superior equipment, training, and support for warfighters and first responders through its divisions, local chapters, affiliated associations, and events. For more information, visit