The last we spoke with MakerGirl, an organization which "inspires girls to be active in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)," the co-founders were in their junior year at the University of Illinois, and 80 girls ages 7-10 had gone through the MakerGirl program. Today the non-profit program is headquartered in Chicago and more than 4,000 girls from around the country have gotten to experience the “MakerGirl mentality.”
Co-founder Elizabeth Engele credits the growth to three Kickstarters between 2015 and 2018. The first was to take MakerGirl STEM sessions to girls in rural and underserved locations. “We went from serving 500 to 3,000 girls on our #MakerGirlGoesMobile program,” said Engele.
Started from a Gies College of Business social entrepreneurship class, classmates asked themselves "What bothers you?" and made a mission to involve more girls in STEM education. MakerGirl’s connection to the university continues as it grows.
“We expanded our model based on what we do at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign called Academy,” said Engele. MakerGirl Academies are sessions that take place on college campuses like Northwestern, University of California San Francisco, University of Michigan, University of Texas at Austin, Milwaukee School of Engineering, and multiple campuses in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Engele and Julia Haried (pictured holding the Maker Girl sign above), two of the four original MakerGirl co-founders, are still involved. They recently hired full-time Executive Director Mary Hadley. “The responsibility of the executive director is to make sure we are sustainable in the long-term,” said Engele. “My co-creator and I are working on [MakerGirl] part-time. We want it to keep going, so we knew we had to hire somebody full-time to be in charge of those academies and ensure we have the resources and capacity to expand our programs.”
The programs have volunteers, called Changemakers, that lead events at academies and mobile sessions. Engele said those volunteer experiences can come at a good time for the leaders. “They are women in engineering programs dominated by men, so we hear [working with 7-10 year old girls in engineering] gives the volunteers encouragement and resilience.”
The focus of the MakerGirl program is 3D printing. “Girls come in and they learn how 3D printing works, and its applications,” said Engele. “There’s a theme to the week like fashion, music, or sports. They are taken through the design-making process to where they actually design an item related to the topic that they want to print.” Examples have been wearable items like barrettes and bracelets, keychains, houses, and giant gummy bears. Sessions are performed at schools, universities, or in people’s homes. The next session in Champaign-Urbana can be found here.
“What we’re trying to do is to break down STEM education into something that’s tangible for girls,” said Engele. Program feedback from parents has been positive about connecting girls and engineering in ways they hadn’t considered before.
“A lot of parents, and even girls themselves, have this complex when they think about girls in engineering,” said Engele. “On Wednesday our executive director was at a lunch and she was mentioning how creativity and engineering connect. A mom was saying, ‘My daughter always builds things out of our recycled materials, and I’ve never thought of her being an engineer.’ She actually is because she’s taking something very common and building with it, making something.”
Engele and her co-creators want parents and girls to connect creativity with engineering. “Knowing that creating and making *is* engineering is important for girls. MakerGirl exists to instill a maker-mentality for [these young girls], as well as to their parents to show this is something that their daughters can pursue.”
Now the organization is planning its Second Annual Chicago Charm: A Fundraiser for MakerGirl this Thursday in the West Loop of Chicago from 6-8 pm.
“We’re so excited,” said Engele. “It was started by Vida Mueller, our co-founder Julia’s mother, last year.” Friends and supporters of MakerGirl are putting on the event with appetizers, cocktails, and door prizes. “Basically it’s a chance to get together over cocktail happy hour and talk about the story of MakerGirl. We think it’s important for the story continues to be shared.” Tickets for the fundraiser are $120, raffle prizes and including Chicago Blackhawks tickets will be available. The co-founders are hoping to see fellow University of Illinois alumni.
“Gies College of Business is sharing our story a lot,” said Engele. A business with a founding story at a university keeps the connection to the college strong, and Engele hopes it inspires more business majors. “It shows the ability for university students to get started [with their business] in college. Nobody is too young to start something. You don’t have to wait until after school.”
Photos provided by Elizabeth Engele.