In August of 2014, four diverse, young women began a Social Entrepreneurship class led by Noah Isserman and Ryan Singh at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Little did the women know, they would start a movement that would impact their own life trajectories in addition to the life trajectories of young girls and women in their dreams for a creating a promising future.
Mid-way into the semester, they were posed and challenged with a simple question: “What bothers you?” One of the four group members, Elizabeth Engele, immediately thought of some of her peers. On a campus that offered limitless opportunities for female students to make anything of themselves, she found herself oftentimes discussing meaningless, non-opportunistic topics. She hoped there was more to campus life and her future career. Julia Haried quickly drew from her past research about the lack of women in C-suite positions. Their conversation moved to, “Why is that?” and “What can we do to change these issues?”
From this inspiration, Engele, Haried, Sophie Li, and Emily Woodward created MakerGirl, a student-run, for-purpose, 501(c)(3) organization that introduces 7- to 10-year-old girls to Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) through interactive, tech-focused 3D printing sessions.
Leaving each session with a self-designed and printed object, MakerGirls are shown that STEAM is tangible. And the themed sessions (e.g., sports, chemistry, fashion) show girls that any passion can be combined with STEAM. The college women and men (ChangeMakers) leading the sessions show girls that STEAM is a possible, logical step for them. Overall, the sessions are meant to show girls that they can create solutions to everyday challenges through asking girls questions like, “If you could 3D print anything for a challenge you see today, what would it be?” This mentality contributes to their vision of enabling girls to live as unstoppable forces that say YES to the challenges of the future.
The first session was piloted in November of 2014 with seven girls from the Champaign-Urbana community. They have continued to hold bimonthly sessions in the area since then. In the summer of 2016, they launched #MakerGirlGoesMobile, the first 3D printing lab on wheels that is fully equipped with the printers and materials needed for sessions. The MakerGirls mobile lab traveled across the country for 8 weeks to share their programming nationwide, especially in underserved and underrepresented communities. They also began establishing MakerGirl Academies in Southern Illinois, Chicago, IL, and Kenosha, WI. Since its inception, MakerGirl has led 160 sessions, inspiring more than 2,000 girls in 48 cities across the US to pursue STEAM.
MakerGirl believes that everyone has the right to an education and should receive equal employment opportunities regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, ability, or socioeconomic background. MakerGirl hopes to the bridge gap in the education system and in the workplace, while inspiring others to make their own efforts to initiate and support social justice movements.