‘The Fosters’ exclusive: Emma Dumont on Sasha and Mariana, FIRST Robotics Competition, and more

Emma Dumont -Monday night’s new episode of “The Fosters” is going to be an eventful one, given that several characters are deep in the midst of important storylines as we near the end of the summer portion of the season.

Today, we are focusing primarily on the Mariana character and her work within a STEAM program in school. The story takes her to the FIRST Robotics Southern California Regionals, and there she will have a chance to meet many other competitors, including a few other young women in a world that is still unfortunately largely occupied by men. One of these characters is Sasha, who you can see interact with Mariana in the sneak peek at the bottom of this interview. She is played by real-life FIRST competitor-turned-mentor Emma Dumont (“Bunheads,” “Aquarius”), and the two characters could strike up a bond.

In leading up to this episode, we had a chance to talk with Dumont about stepping into the role, her own work within the FIRST program, and also if she could see Sasha and Mariana developing a friendship that could lead to her turning up on the show more in the future.

CarterMatt – How did you first get involved with robotics?

Emma Dumont – I got involved in robots in the program called FIRST when I was in high school. I started off on an all-girl robotics team, and the program called FIRST Tech Challenge, which is a smaller competition. It was an all-girls team, and it was super fun and I immediately became obsessed with engineering and building and using my hands. That same year I went to the FIRST Robotics Competition, which is what you see in episode 8, and that’s the bigger robotics [competition]. I went on that team, and I was on a team of all boys — not purposely all boys, but just by chance — and I actually ended up captaining that team for many years.

Now I mentor that team, and we have a few girls. I’ve always loved robotics and engineering, and I found this program allowed me to do it in high school and I love it.

Was there a notice out there for ‘The Fosters’ that they were looking for someone with a history in robotics, or was that just a happy coincidence that you knew it so well?

I think it was a happy coincidence. I knew they were doing an arc with robotics, and I was so excited, but I didn’t know it was going to be my program FIRST, and then I came in for this role and I was like ‘Yes! I know this girl, I am this girl. This is amazing.’ It was super-exciting and great, and the actual team that I mentor was there on the filming day. All of the students on the show are real robotics and engineering students. It was just crazy and amazing.

What was that experience like for them? Obviously they’re used to seeing a certain side of you, but now they’re getting to get a glimpse into your other world making a TV show.

I think the students and even the mentors were really excited. I mean, TV and film, that’s something they really don’t get to see on a daily basis. There are a lot of mentors who have high-intensity jobs, and even they were like super-impressed and excited to be on-set.

So do you like roles like this where you can have such a big personal touchstone like robotics that you can relate to?

100%. When I can relate to [them] and understand it full-force, it makes it easier to play the character and it makes it more fun. I play a girl named Sasha, and she is the captain of an all-girl robotics team from a pretty posh private school. She’s the kind of girl who may seem like a mean girl when you first meet her, but she has a heart of gold underneath her competitive spirit. I really like her, and I think her, Mariana, and the rest of the teams all together make a great alliance.

How much did the writers and producers tell you about Sasha going in? Did you have the flexibility to draw for your own experiences and say ‘this is what I did in some of the competitions’?

The whole competition was written very accurately to what is [there] in real life, so there wasn’t much that I wanted or needed to change. They brought in consultants from the FIRST Robotics program, so when I came in I thought I was at a competition. It was crazy and surreal, almost. It was so wild.

What can you say about the Sasha – Mariana interactions?

The interactions are at first sort of typical girl interactions. The thing I love about these two girls together is that they’re both super-spunky, and they’re very high-spirited young ladies. At first you’d think that they would be fierce competitors and there’d be a lot of drama, but I will say that they actually end up working together, so let’s just say two heads are better than one.

Did you have a chance to see and work with some other members of the cast?

There are some I got to interact with. I was only there for the robotics days, so I only met people who were in that plotline, which was actually a good amount of the family. I think it’s great that everyone’s invested — I wish that this mirrored real life, because I know that there are a lot of parents and their families who don’t really support STEM careers. I think especially for girls, it is a hard thing. There are a lot of old-fashioned values, and a lot of people who don’t think of robotics as something viable for girls to do. They think ‘oh, you should do something like track or cheerleading or ballet,’ but we’re in this new era of girl-power and girls in STEM.

In furthering along that, is that the message you are hoping the story sends to people out there who may have an interest in pursuing STEM?

Yeah. Something that the FIRST program says is that this is a sport of the mind, and it is something that everyone can go pro [in doing]. Not everyone can go pro at soccer, but everyone can go pro at using your brain. It’s not just STEM, it’s also STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. Mariana is a great example of a female with an interest in STEAM. She’s a dancer, she’s a coder, she’s so many different things. It’s about reaching your full potential, and I think she is the poster girl for meeting your full potential and being confident.

Do you think we could see Sasha at some point down the line if her and Mariana form some sort of friendship?

I think so. I think they work really well together, so you never know! They did a great job together, so who knows what the future holds?

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