While there are plenty of initiatives around the world aimed at getting girls and young women interested in and comfortable using STEAM technology like 3D printing, coding, and robotics, I think my favorite is MakerGirl, a non-profit organization created in 2014 by a few female Gies College of Business students in a social entrepreneurship class at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.The young women were frustrated by the lack of female classmates enrolled as engineering students, and began offering STEM workshops for girls ages 7-10 on campus. After realizing they needed a way to make a bigger impact, the founders set up a mobile 3D printing lab in order to take their popular sessions to girls in more rural areas who may not have as many opportunities to interact with more advanced manufacturing technologies.
A successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016, and lessons learned at the Gies College of Business, really allowed the program to take flight.
MakerGirl Co-Founder Elizabeth Engele, ’15 BA and a current LinkedIn employee, said, “I’ve been amazed building a company and how incredible it can be when you pull out the strength of every individual ChangeMaker.
“Being at Gies helped in so many ways.”
With the completion of a venture accelerator and the creation of an additional, unrelated non-profit, called Cut to the Case, MakerGirl isn’t slowing down anytime soon, as the organization has made some major progress over the last few years on its mission to impact girls around the country.
While the non-profit still has college students teaching STEM skills to young girls, classes were originally offered only at the University of Illinois, but have now expanded to other universities as well. MakerGirl now offers special robotics and coding classes at Northwestern University, and expects to finalize a new partnership with DePaul University soon, with additional plans in the works to take the initiative to Milwaukee-area universities and beyond next.
“The Gies College of Business supported the launch and growth of MakerGirl in many ways. During a Gies study-abroad lunch in 2013, a friend told me to check out a social entrepreneurship class he was assisting with that was cross-listed between the Gies College of Business and the School of Social Work. In that class, the idea was born and incubated by myself and co-founder, Elizabeth Engele, and supported by course instructors. The idea was further launched in the iVenture Accelerator, a Gies-supported venture accelerator that gave us $10,000, mentorship, and a summer to grow MakerGirl’s impact at the Research Park,” said MakerGirl Co-Founder and Gies graduate Julia Haried ’15 ACCY, ’16 MAS. “Because of these experiences, I was challenged and encouraged to solve a big social problem. It enabled me to continue my commitment from St. Ignatius College Prep to be ‘a woman for others.”
“It’s so much fun and fulfilling to build a program that creates a meaningful experience for girls right now that also impacts their future. We have witnessed girls self-identify as MakerGirls after the program, which is incredibly powerful for themselves, their families, and their communities,” said Engele.
Considering that MakerGirl began four years ago with just one pilot session of seven girls, the fact that it’s grown to a total of 15 STEM students at the University of Illinois and three at Northwestern who teach sessions and run logistics is very exciting.
“MakerGirl brings me the greatest joy when I see young girls get excited about science, technology, engineering, and math, and literally shift who they perceive themselves to be in the world,” said Haried, who was one of the judges for the Ultimaker Pioneer Program’s 2017 Education Challenge.
Engele said that the non-profit is looking for sponsors and other forms of financial backing going ahead. Another big change coming next month – MakerGirl will also have its first CEO.
Stephanie Hein, ’16 LAS, has been involved with the organization for three years since she was a molecular biology student and saw young girls attending the sessions watching 3D printers to see how they worked. Hein said that one of her key responsibilities as CEO will be to set up new MakerGirl “academies,” starting first with universities in the Midwest and hopefully expanding nationwide in the future.
Having grown up on a bean, corn, and wheat farm in Wisconsin, Hein says that MakerGirl’s mission “to help girls in rural communities is personal.”
Engele explained, “I definitely think it’s important to help girls in those areas. Creative thinking can be combined with a STEM degree. It is one of the most powerful combinations to build, but I grew up thinking that a STEM profession excluded being creative.”
Hein, who is moving to Champaign in order to support the organization full-time, also plans to expand the #MakerGirlGoesMobile campaign, which first took place two years ago when a MakerGirl truck traveled over 10,000 miles to 17 states in order to host 61 sessions.
Hein said, “The #MakerGirlGoesMobile campaign is something I hope we can expand to reach even more girls across the country.”
Engele, Haried, and Hein have a shared goal for MakerGirl: to impact 10,000 young girls by 2023, with half of that number coming from rural and underrepresented communities. Considering that they’ve impacted over 2,500 girls so far, I don’t think they’ll have any problems reaching that goal.
Organizations like MakerGirl are vitally important to getting women involved with STEAM technology at a young age, so that by the time they grow up and enter the workforce as adults, the gender gap in tech fields will have continued to decrease, and industries like 3D printing won’t continue to skew so heavily male.
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