If you would have told me three years ago that an idea I had would have a hand in inspiring the lives of over 2.5K young girls and ~30 university women and men, I would have said you were lying. In the Fall semester of my senior year of university, a simple idea for solving the “girls in STEM” gap turned into a reality that will continue to create positive change; however, “ideas are commodities and execution is not.” I had an idea, but the statistics you read above could only be accomplished through a team and support from some very generous individuals and companies, Ultimaker being our major sponsor.
Empower one MakerGirl, empower the world
In August of 2016 Pioneer Kendall Furbee, then a sophomore studying Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois, wrote about her experience with MakerGirl and how the group traveled 10,000 miles around the country to help bring 3D printing workshops to over 1,000 young girls. In this week's post we catch up with the organization that is still working to create a new generation of confident, creative women leaders.
MakerGirl is a social venture that inspires 7-10 year old girls to pursue STEM fields through 3D printing sessions taught by University STEM women and men. We chose a 3D printing format because a 3D CAD and print session demonstrates to girls that STEM is creative, technical, and tangible. Through the three years that I’ve been working with MakerGirl, I’m continually surprised by the impact that the MakerGirl experience has on more than just the 7-10 year old girls. I’ve also seen how MakerGirl has impacted the University team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and future University academy leaders.
This school year, we have 16 college students at UIUC that are running all of MakerGirl’s day-to-day operations under the strategic direction of our other co-founder, Julia Haried, and myself. The UIUC team is a diverse team of students ranging from freshman to graduate students studying a variety of disciplines such as engineering, business, and design. The team is divided into seven branches (curriculum, team relations, marketing, data, academies, sponsorship, and finance) where each works together under a director in a team of ~3 to accomplish various responsibilities within that branch. Through this model, I have witnessed the directors transform in their leadership potential throughout a school year. For example, Nishi Gupta, had previous experience working with a nonprofit while living in India but did not think she would ever have the opportunity to have that impact at UIUC. She said the MakerGirl experience has enabled her to not only call UIUC “home,” but she also feels more prepared to enter the workforce upon graduating because she has been able to learn how to ask the right questions to inspire and motivate her marketing team.
Although the UIUC team might be working on different projects within MakerGirl, each individual is responsible to help run the weekly 3D printing sessions for the young girls. Rachel Berg, one of MakerGirl’s UIUC leaders, describes some of her experiences below:
“One of my first sessions that I helped out at was during the winter time. We explained what 3D printing was to the girls and prompted them with the question of ‘Each snowflake is different and not like any other in the world. Keeping that in mind, what makes you unique?’ Many of the girls really had to think about what made them different and what talents they had. They were forced to appreciate who they were and embrace what they could do. My favorite moment was when one girl, who I had worked with in previous sessions, raised her hand and said she was a MakerGirl and that made her unique because she could create anything with a 3D printer. It’s very humbling to see how the girls react to what you are teaching them and that they truly look up to us (University leaders) as role models. I am so fortunate to be able to be a part of MakerGirl and impact the future of women in STEM.”
When thinking about the long-term strategy of MakerGirl, what’s even more exciting is that we are continuing to expand beyond UIUC through our academies model. With our existing curriculum, our aim is to continue to empower more University STEM women and 7-10 year old girls so we are setting up “academies” similar to what we have at UIUC in order to empower girls all over the US, starting with the Midwest. Rachel Tham, our academies director, has selected four well-accomplished women from DePaul and Northwestern University to start two MakerGirl academies in Chicago, and our pilot sessions will begin this April. Training and meeting the new Chicago directors has been incredibly rewarding for the UIUC team because it is exciting to find like-minded women who are devoted to MakerGirl, and we can’t wait to hear about similar “snowflake” stories like Rachel Berg’s that come out of our Chicago academies.
After we have successfully implemented these two academies at Northwestern and DePaul, we will continue to scale to new locations like Milwaukee, Kansas City, and St. Louis. We already have contacts at several of these locations through #MakerGirlGoesMobile, our annual Summer tour in which we perform our Ultimaker 3D printing sessions on the road in rural, underserved communities.
The stats and vision shared in this story are not because of any one person. They exist because Nishi inspires her marketing team, Rachel B. helped the participant see she is a MakerGirl, and Rachel T. inspired the women in Chicago to build academies. It is all about the empowerment and generosity of the team and our sponsors like Ultimaker. I can’t wait to read a similar post in 20+ years as I’m confident our university leaders will go on to inspire more positive change in the companies that are lucky to receive them and our powerful Maker Girls are going to change the world with their knowledge of STEM and desire to empower others with the knowledge they’ve been given. Let’s empower the world by empowering MakerGirls!
Special thanks to Nishi Gupta, Rachel B. and Rachel T. for your assistance in writing this post. Our MakerGirl journey could not have been and will not be accomplished without the help of Ultimaker for generously donating 3D printers to our first #MakerGirlGoesMobile nationwide tour and future academies. Most importantly, Thank you to all of the leaders in my life that have enabled me to dream big! You are life’s biggest blessings!