Through 3D printing, MakerGirl introducing girls to the world of STEM
With a conviction for providing girls with a “builder” mindset, Elizabeth Engele decided to help empower the women of the future by co-founding a start-up to encourage girls to pursue careers that make a difference.
“That means they can tackle the world’s biggest issues and if they have an idea, they will have the confidence and capacity to turn it into a reality,” Engele explained. “I believe that it is critical for girls at a young age to realize that they are capable of tackling any problem and that they can turn any passion into a career.”
From a foundation spun out of the Social Work 321 class, Engele along with Julia Haried, and Sophie Li, founded MakerGirl to help introduce girls to the possibility of pursuing a career in STEM fields.
Through 90 minute sessions, MakerGirl offers girls ages 7-10 a chance to correlate topics related to STEM with their affect on the world while at the same time giving them a chance to create objects through 3D printers in the Maker Lab at the Business Instructional Facility (BIF).
From its first pilot session last fall, MakerGirl has seen more than 400 girls come through the program. Engele, who graduated in May and now works for LinkedIn, has passed on much of the responsibility to current students.
Each session starts with a power point presentation on the night’s theme. Recent themes have included STEM in Sports, Passion for Fashion, and Creating with Chemistry.
“Our goal is to show how 3D printing can be in their lives through the objects they use every day,” said Caitlin Deegan, a student in materials science and engineering and a member of the current MakerGirl team. “For instance Nike 3D prints parts of its shoes.”
Following the presentation, participants are given one-on-one training on basic computer aided design (CAD), and the girls have the opportunity to then create an object related to the theme and watch it print on one of the lab’s 3D printers.
“We are constantly coming up with new topics to keep girls coming back,” said Stephanie Hein, another MakerGirl team member and a molecular and cellular biology major. “The girls that come back are eager to share what they have learned. Their objects have grown and become more complex.”
Sessions are $20 and scholarships are available to students who receive free or reduced cost lunches at school. Marketing for the sessions are mainly through social media, word of mouth, and flyers distributed at elementary schools, but because of its success, plans are already in the works to expand the program.
Last summer, MakerGirl was one of about a dozen startups that earned space at the Enterprise Works accelerator in Research Park through the I-Venture accelerator program. The group used the $10,000 grant to secure their 501C3 not-for-profit status, which is useful in attracting angel investors because of its tax exemptions.
The MakerGirl team also used the time and space to create new sessions and to write curriculum that can be copied. Fellow student Manisha Singh is heading up an effort to get a program at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale off the ground and plans are underway to create a chapter in Chicago.
“We want our sessions to be easily replicated,” Deegan said. “In order to do that we have to get all the curriculum into print. We have a lot of worksheets (word searches, puzzles, etc.) that they use to brainstorm their ideas and to keep them entertained while objects are printing.”
“Our co-founders chose to focus on 3D printing because it is becoming more and more prevalent with a lot of elementary schools starting to get them,” said team member Joseph Milla, a computer science major. “We can show them how 3D printers are used to make objects like prosthetics and in the fashion world, for instance.”
“We created the Passion for Fashion session because you don’t really associate science, technology, engineering and math with being girly,” Hein added. “I think that is one of the problems that young girls have. They don’t think they should be interested in science and math so maybe they don’t pursue those careers. In Passion for Fashion, we wanted to show them how they can be girly and also love science and math.”