According to a recent report by Microsoft, girls and young women remain less likely to pursue education and careers in science, technology, engineering, and math; in short, STEM. In that regard, the lack of representation of women in STEM-related careers continues to grow as an area of focus. Mary Hadley from MakerGirl talks about their Girl STEM Education and mentorship program. MakerGirl is an organization that started in 2014 at the University of Illinois that introduces young girls in the Champaign-Urbana area to the exciting world of STEM fields through 3D printing sessions and creative activities. They have over 3,000 girls that have gone through their program since then. Their goal is to show girls that they can be both analytical and creative in one space.
We’re excited to bring to you an interview with MakerGirl. In case you don’t know what MakerGirl is, it’s an organization that started in 2014 at the University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign and they have over 3,000 girls that have gone through their program since then. It’s amazing because they are hitting into the space of ages seven to ten-year-old girls, maybe even up to twelve but mostly seven to ten and getting them exposed to STEM in general through 3D printing. They think 3D printing is that good entry point and that’s interesting. They have other cutting-edge technologies that they use as well, but they think that 3D printing is a great entry point for them in and getting them CAD skills. Their goal is to show girls that they can be both analytical and creative in one space. You can do both at the same time. We’re going to have Mary Hadley on. Mary Hadley is one of their MakerGirls. It’s a volunteer and mentorship organization that is at the college level. She’ll talk some more about how that structure is.
How I connected with Mary is so interesting because I got trolled on Twitter initially by a bunch of people. I wrote an article about girls in STEM and they’re not being enough. They’re saying, “You’re not covering good organizations like MakerGirl and others.” I said, “I’ve never heard of it,” which is part of the problem. We need to add these organizations, reach out to contributing writers and writers all across so that we can cover them because we want to tell great stories. Then I sent a direct message to invite them to come on the show here and for me to write an article about them later. That’s how Mary and I hooked up and met each other. It’s been a long time coming for us because we’ve scheduled and then had to reschedule this interview several times. It’s taken a lot longer than we thought to bring it to our audience of WTFFF but I’m happy we could do that. Let’s go to that interview with Mary now and then we’ll talk a little bit more about it on the other side.
Listen to the podcast here:
Girl STEM Education with MakerGirl with Mary Hadley
Mary, thanks so much for joining us. I am so excited to talk to you because we’ve started a Twitter relationship. That’s how I found out about you.
I thought it was interesting. It was an old DM. I had just gotten on to being part of our social media team. I was like, “I definitely have to respond to this.” It seems such a great opportunity for us and I wanted to get to know you guys better too.
It was because one of your supporters strongly pushed out MakerGirl as getting to be featured in my Inc. column. I had written about getting more girls into STEM and they said, “You haven’t featured MakerGirl at all.” I was like, “I don’t know MakerGirl. You have to tell me more about it.” That’s how I then put out this direct message and the reality is I don’t look on my Twitter DMs that often either. It wasn’t you alone who had forgotten that, I had even done that but I’m glad we’re talking.
I’m super excited to meet you guys and talk more about MakerGirl and introduce you to more MakerGirl stuff so you can learn more about how we educate more girls in STEM.
First, I want to start with you. How did you get started with 3D printing and STEM?
In the summer of 2017, my friend had posted about joining #MakerGirlGoesMobile, which is MakerGirl’s mobile road trip. Over the summer, we pack up 3D printers in a van and we take it either across the country, but during this time it was just throughout the Midwest. I thought it was such a great idea. I wanted to get involved. I have such a passion for driving more young girls into STEM. I took the opportunity, dropped the summer class I was going to take and hopped on the road trip.
MakerGirl has been around since 2014 and it started at the University of Illinois. How did you get involved in finding the organization?
I had two friends that were involved in MakerGirl and at the time in the 2016, 2017 team. It was a pretty tight-knit team. I wasn’t able to apply then, but when she posted about someone needing help for the road trip, I knew it was the first step for me to put my foot in the door and get involved in the organization itself. I had heard a little bit about it through a fundraiser that my friend wanted to do on campus. I wanted to get more involved in help girls educate and STEM.
What were you studying?
I’m a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign and I’m studying chemistry. It’s very different than doing 3D printing and also running a company but it’s fun so I like both.
It is different than running a company that’s for sure, but there’s a lot of chemistry in all of the materials and stuff that are involved in 3D printing. I could definitely see a tie in there and maybe in near future.
I like the curriculum-based side of MakerGirl and tying some chemistry ideas into it. We even have done a chemistry curriculum themed session that was super fun. All of our sessions have a little theme that’s tied to them to make each session a little different. We had it where we could say, “What would you want to be when you grew up?” I showed girls what you could do with chemistry and there are girls who 3D printed little beakers and it was super cute.
MakerGirl specifically focused on ages seven to ten. Why that age group?
We chose seven to ten because we saw throughout data that we had compiled that a lot of girls around age eleven and in middle school is when they fall off being interested in saying yes to STEM. We thought getting them right before that dropping off point, at age seven to ten, would help them get that push over into the yes.
You’ve found that if you reach them during that seven to ten-year-old age, you can get them interested in it such that they’ll continue with that interest, is that right?
That’s our goal. Our goal is to get them right before they get uninterested, to get re-interested in STEM and maybe find a new passion in 3D printing or learning about STEM in general. Showing them women leaders in STEM and showing them that it is a path for them to not be uninterested anymore.
I never thought about it with our girls. We have one that’s right in that age range right now and another one not yet but coming up. They’re exposed to STEM all the time because of us being creative people interested in all that. I hadn’t thought about if you’re not into that and if you don’t get them in early enough, you might miss your window of opportunity.
Being a mother of three girls here, I get that. You hit that age, maybe twelve years old and you hit middle school. There starts to be a development of girls and they have distractions because they’re very social beings. It’s very different. If your friends are not into that and if it’s not revered as being important, which it happens to be in our household, then maybe you won’t get the exposure then at that point. It won’t be something you go to seek out. I can totally see that makes a lot of sense to that age group.
I can even pull on my own experience when I was in that middle school age. I was passionate about STEM, but I know none of my friends were. Every time even going into high school and trying to get them to sign up for STEM classes or any science or math class that they didn’t have to sign up for. I wanted them to be in the class with me. It was hard to get them to push over in that high school range. If I had that relationship in middle school and trying to get them more in STEM activities and had something like MakerGirl, maybe it could have been something different for other people that weren’t interested later in life.
How do you see the mission of MakerGirl growing? It’s changed a lot. It’s been to eighteen states and it’s been growing around. It’s not just a Midwest thing. How have you seen it grow?
We are trying to get different academies at different college campuses. That’s one of our big goals besides continuing our #MakerGirlGoesMobile road trips. Being able to found academies, we had our first pilot session at Harvard so that was exciting. Seeing how these academies will take on the MakerGirl mission and make it their own for their college campus. Taking it and going off of our same ideas and our same mission and vision, but how those girls will be able to take our curriculum. Put their own spin on it and get the girls in their area to see them as their future role models. Keeping up those academies across the country would be one of our biggest goals right now.
I was seeing the ads on TV for GE where they were having everyone thank their mentors. That’s what you are creating. You’re creating a mentorship environment from the college to the early elementary ages. I love that because that fosters that attitude throughout your career. That’s one of the things that many of us women have found, we haven’t found the right women mentors over time. That has always been detrimental to our long-term careers.
One of the people on our team named Kim, she always preaches like, “You need to see someone that looks like you to feel like you can belong in that field.” She’s telling that to our girls and to our people on our team. The little girls come in and they see a woman. They know that they are in a college course, maybe in STEM or something that they can do or even showing them how to 3D print, then they know they can do it as well. It helps with that mentorship too. We definitely have that morale going on at our headquarter campus here.
The organization has big plan goals.
Our big goals right now are to have ten academies and reach 10,000 girls by 2023. That’s our big goal right now for all MakerGirl.
If you are in a college campus, if you want to drive this in, if you’re reading this, reach out to MakerGirl because this is your chance to be an ambassador. Try and bring it into your school and try and help them reach their goals.
We want anyone that’s interested and having a passion to help girls become more women in STEM. If you have that passion, then you can become part of our group and you can help found your own MakerGirl at any academy.
How does that work? I know we have a lot of our audience either involved in education, either educators or certainly students. How would that work for a new school if they’re interested in starting a MakerGirl academy? What does that look like? What support do they get?
If you want to found a MakerGirl, you need a couple of other people that you’d like to found it with. We suggest three just so you can have a little group on your side at your school. Then you would reach out to either Info@MakerGirl.us or any of our directors. You can find them on our page at MakerGirl.us. You would contact us. Let’s say that you want to found one. Say that you’re super interested. Your first idea is to go find somewhere on campus that you could host these sessions. Whether that’s a maker lab that already has 3D printers or maybe that’s a space that would allow 3D printers to come into that space. We also have our sponsors that want to sponsor certain academies at certain schools. As sponsors, their first goal is to then provide us with five 3D printers. Once we have those first five 3D printers, we can bring them to our new academy and they can start hosting their first pilot session. We usually do three pilot sessions to make sure that there’s interest in the area. That people on campus are dedicated and passionate and that they are people who embody a MakerGirl. Once that goes from there, all three pilot sessions go well then you have a MakerGirl academy.
Is there a particular curriculum, a goal or activity for each of those pilot sessions that you’re providing as an organization?
We provide them with the curriculum so that they don’t have to come up with that out of nowhere. We usually send one of our own MakerGirl team members from the University of Illinois to travel there. That just happened at Harvard, we had our friend, Claire Follis, travel out to Boston and help them with their first session. We thought that was most ideal because then if anything goes wrong with printers or if anything goes wrong with not knowing different design software we use, then they’re right there. They taught more than ten sessions. They know exactly where to go in and help fix it.
It’s so important to have support like that when you’re running a session. I want to make sure I understand this because the focus is on girls seven to ten, but you’re reaching out to universities, which clearly is college age students. Is it that each college is creating a MakerGirl academy that will reach out to that younger age group, is that the idea?
Our idea is that you would get the girls in your area, the younger girls, the seven to ten. You reach out to those elementary school, middle school age girls to bring them into your sessions. The reason why we choose university and college age is because we find that mentorship that we had discussed to be the most practical and the most effective. Also, it’s great to even have MakerGirl in having that passion to help educate girls with STEM even helps you yourself. I know that personally, it has helped me stay with my curriculum and stay with chemistry and everything like that because I know that I have a group of supporters that I can go meet with every week to help me push and keep doing what I’m doing.
How great for the university too to be attracting women who go on the campus. Young women, young girls who go on the campus who wanted to say, “Look at how supportive this environment is.” This is a college I want to go to eventually. That’s even better too. I bet for you with an interest in chemistry, all the new materials that keep coming out, different filaments and things must be of great interest to you. I wonder like when PETG started to take hold, I bet you got interested in that and all the different properties. How has that been of particular interest or benefit to you in your field of study?
What’s cool is all of the work that’s doing with medicine in 3D printing. Right now, one of my friends on our curriculum team is working on making a whole curriculum based on that. Seeing how the different ways that medicine has been able to take such an innovative cutting-edge technology as 3D printing and change it into the way of medicine has been cool to see.
I know there’s been a tremendous amount of interest in medical 3D printing. I can see how fascinating, exciting and illuminating for all the girls that are involved. What did you think was the biggest challenge for you getting into 3D printing?
My biggest challenge was when I joined MakerGirl, I had never 3D printed before. I had no idea how to fix a 3D printer when things went wrong. Learning from a team member that had taught me in one week before she left the road trip and had to go start her full-time job. That was something that I relied on learning the key aspects of how to fix one of these 3D printers. We also went to a Maker Faire where I got to learn from different makers, how their tips and tricks on how to fix the 3D printer I was working on. That helped me a lot. Now I’m one of the people that would fix all of our 3D printers in our space because I know the most about it.
You never thought you’d become a 3D printer technician, did you?
I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I signed up for this. I just wanted to help educate more girls on STEM and it helped me educate on 3D printing myself, which was so cool.
Did you learn CAD too?
We teach very simple CAD, so it’s drag and drop. We use Tinkercad by Autodesk, it’s very simple. In my chemistry, we don’t have to use CAD, so I have not learned more difficult CAD. Some of my friends are chemical engineers so they do use some CAD design. I know some civil engineers too, so I want to ask them to see what they use in their school to see the more upper-level hand.
Tom, you’ve reviewed a lot of software here. What is the one that a lot of people thought was a step up from Tinkercad, but is still a simple one?
There are so many and there are always new ones coming out, especially for the seven to ten-year-old age group. The tablet-based programs are more intuitive to them.
What was the one we tried Lannea on? Lannea’s our nine-year-old. She was seven at the time when we tried it.
That one’s called Morphi app, which is tablet-based that is similar drag and drop but gives you quite a bit of capability within it that you can do. Anything that gets them into it, I’m in favor of. I don’t prefer one over another. Although Tinkercad I have been reading has made a lot of new developments to the software. There are a lot more capabilities than it used to have to create more. It’s not drag and drop functions where they are using different equations and code line functions to create more complex objects. That’s something that I’m probably going to have to do another review of updated Tinkercad because of all those new functions. It’s quite nice.
This is my favorite part about when I see girls at that age start 3D printing, and I’m curious as to what your favorite part is, but my favorite part is that they don’t think that anything’s out of reach. They’re like, “We can make that.” I love that attitude in life because it’s going to bode well, there’s nothing that’s too hard to learn.
For Tinkercad, it’s easily accessible to younger girls. That one we are trying to show them how it works. They’re already halfway through building their design. Always the fun part is that they want to play with it themselves and fail themselves before they hear which shape might not print the best. Then they’re like, “I’ll find a way to make it print.” That’s one of my favorite parts.
They’re like, “Let me try it anyway.” That’s the thing is the printers break down and printers fail, but you scrape it off and you start again. That’s got to be something that at that age and feeling that that’s okay carries on into the rest of your life as, “It’s okay to try and fail.”
Something that’s cool about MakerGirl is that we try to make it a safe space for girls to fail. We’ve known that when we’ve gone into schools or other things where we’re working with both little boys and girls. Sometimes the girls are quieter, they’re shyer to then fail because they want to make their item perfect. If they’re in a space that’s just girls and they can know that it’s okay to fail, then that’s what we aim for. We don’t care if you fail, you can scrape it off and keep going, try something different and we can make sure that you end up with a print at the end of this day.
Is there a particular type of machine? You mentioned you start with five 3D printers. Ideally when you start up a new academy, is there a certain make of machine that you prefer for any particular reason?
We do like Ultimaker because Ultimaker is one of our big sponsors. They are the reason that we were able to do our #MakerGirlGoesMobile. They donated thirteen printers to us to have that happen. Without them, we would not have our #MakerGirlGoesMobile and we wouldn’t be able to work in this awesome space on campus. We made a deal with the space that they can use our 3D printers if we could use their space. Without those 3D printers, we wouldn’t have been able to get our road trip started.
You get the leverage program working with the space.
That’s what we try to encourage people that are starting academies. Even if you don’t have a maker lab, there are people that will want to work with you for your 3D printers. Try to figure out those new spaces. Every college is trying to make them more high-tech spaces. All of them would love 3D printers in those spaces, but sometimes they don’t have the funds for it but you have them, so you can get it in there.
You won an award. You are named one of Chicago Inno’s 25 under 25 for your work with MakerGirl. What an honor.
I worked at 1871 Chicago, which is a shared working space environment and I got interviewed for a Chicago Inno for talking about MakerGirl. I looked over in the fall and I had gotten that, and it was cool.
We’re so supportive of girls in CAD, girls in STEM, girls in I would say STEAM because we expand it to art. We talk a lot about the design side of things. What are you going to create? That’s how we started in that part of it. Getting that in at that early age, it has become so apparent to us because of the age of our daughters, how critical that is to get that exposure at the right ages. I’m so impressed with what you guys have done at MakerGirl.
Thank you. That’s super awesome that parents are also super excited about it. That’s when it makes a lot more impact is that it’s not just somewhere, they’re assigning their kid up, dropping them off, picking them up and not caring about their project. The parents are like, “Show me how you made that, show me on Tinkercad, show me how that 3D printer works,” because sometimes they haven’t done 3D printing themselves. That’s super exciting when the parents come back. We ask them to come back fifteen minutes early if they’re into it and the girls love to show what they’d done. It’s like presenting your work at the end and knowing how you got to that final product.
You guys haven’t been quite long enough to get anyone off to college yet, but pretty close from the start in 2014, so it should be pretty soon. I look forward to seeing that. Are you guys following them and saying, “These were students of MakerGirl and now they’ve gone off to college. Now they’re joining the organization as mentors.” Have you had anyone do that yet?
We’ve had a couple of girls that were super consistent on coming to the sessions that we follow up with their parents. One of our girls who went to every single session, her name is Addie, she had moved to Seattle. We keep in touch with her dad and seeing what different after-school program she’s going there. We’re trying to get a MakerGirl there soon, so we can try to see her follow through that.
I would love to see that data in the future where you guys are tracking and seeing how this has turned into girls going into STEM fields in the future. Having that follow-up would be critical to the success of MakerGirl and getting it documented that you guys have changed things for girls. I would think Seattle would be an ideal region for a couple of MakerGirls. All the tech sector of Seattle has sprawled out so much outside of Seattle. You’d probably need three or four so that people didn’t have to drive a crazy distance or in tons of traffic to get there. I would expect to see at least one there very soon. They have such great universities there too, so it makes sense. Mary, is there anything else you want us to know about what you guys are working on and what’s coming up in the future?
If you’re a student that’s attending DePaul University in Chicago or at Harvard in Boston and want to join MakerGirl’s team, there are two pilot sessions that are coming up soon. We would love to have more people involved and we want more college students so feel free to contact us.
What if companies want to donate and/or sponsor or do any of that, should they reach out to you guys directly at the organization?
Mary, I’m so glad we reached out on Twitter to each other and manage to connect and have you on the show.
Thank you so much for having me. It was a great time.
Girl STEM Education with MakerGirl with Mary Hadley – Final Thoughts
I always like to hear about these types of organizations and I was fascinated because I hadn’t thought about it quite this way. I was fascinated that that seven to ten age group window is critical. What they found at MakerGirl, if you focus on that age group and you catch girls before they get too old, and maybe middle school is too old if you’re reaching them there. I’m sure many different middle schools and high schools in the country are trying to put in 3D printing and STEM education because it’s very important but you’ve got to start a little younger.
I keep thinking about this. I had a UCI experience. We had this program called Science Saturdays at UCI and it must have been sixth grade, seventh grade, something like that. It’s probably sixth grade. My friend, Mandy Sobo, she would know. She would remember because she mentioned it to me when I saw her at our reunion a few years ago. UCI sponsored this, and my parents drove us over there. Mandy and I, we would do these cool things like get to experience chemistry. You would do things that you couldn’t do in the labs at an elementary school. It was eye-opening to me, but we were the only two girls in the whole group at the time.
Thinking about that back then, that was shocking that here they offer this amazing program and I don’t even think it costs anything. We were the only two girls who took up in it and we were eleven or twelve at the time. This was the early ‘80s. Maybe not as shocking back then, but it’s more shocking now that there would only be two girls who would be pushed into going by their parents. We asked our parents to go. My mom was surprised I wanted to do it. I think about the value of our experiences. I know I didn’t go into science, but I’m also wasn’t scared by it. It was something that that experience in and of itself made me think, “This is interesting and something worth doing.” I almost did study science in college.
The reality is the field of study you went into was more art-related, but your career and everything since then has been very STEM, very technical. I grew up with a single mom who was an electrical engineer and a computer scientist. Talk about STEM, she was in college in the early ‘70s, as one of the only women in an electrical engineering department. That was very unusual in the early ‘70s. To me, I’ve always been immersed in STEM. I didn’t have to go to a STEM class. My toys in my home were STEM class. I was always taking them apart, turning them into other things, making other things with them. It’s this foreign concept to me that young people, whether they’re girls or boys, I know we’re talking about girls, in this case, would not be exposed to it and need to be exposed to it but I have to get outside of my own experience.
The thing here is that it’s access we found that makes a computer technology equal. We did an episode about girls who code. The same thing, they aren’t exposed to it. They don’t see themselves doing that. They don’t see a career in it. I always think back to the a-ha moment I had in college when I wasn’t totally loving graphic design and all of those types of things that I had thought that I was going in to study. I walked into the textile room and said, “There’s a career here.” That a-ha for me was like, “This is crafting,” but when I saw, “There are women and men and careers in this,” that changed my perspective overnight. Seeing was believing and that’s what MakerGirl is doing, which is so important.
They’ve built an amazing system because when you think about this, they built a system by which they’re incurring women mentoring younger girls. Women’s mentorship is out at low and it has not grown enough. I know that firsthand and we have seen that women don’t mentor other women well. We’re teaching how to do that at a foundational level in college. That’s amazing right there. We’re getting girls exposed at ages seven to ten. At an age at which did leave an impression that this is a career, this is a college study path. We’re leaving that message. The college campuses are attracting great women to their campus. Great young girls who might be future studying professionals in this field. That’s amazing too and they get technology and a maker lab if they don’t have one. What school shouldn’t take them up on this? There should be maker labs everywhere. They should have many people applying that they’re struggling to meet the demand. That would be the best situation.
I hope that our conversation exposing and getting this message out about what MakerGirl is doing from coast to coast rather than just being a little more Midwest focused. As they start to reach out to Harvard and hopefully start to reach out West here. I think about the fabulous campus maker lab that’s at San Diego State where Alexandra went. That was an amazing lab that they had. There were some great machines. Thinking about that, that would be a great place to host a MakerGirl. Maybe they’ll start one. I hope that it reaches from coast to coast in our exposure here.
We hope you enjoyed that interview as much as we did. You can reach out to us anywhere on social media at 3D Start Point. They’re doing a Chicago Fundraiser on November 29th, 2018. If there’s some way for you to get involved or some way for you to help with that. Thanks so much, everybody. We’ll be back with another great episode next time.
- Mary Hadley
- Morphi app
- Chicago Fundraiser
- Tracy Hazzard’s Inc. column
MakerGirl educates girls ages 7-10 about STEM through 3D printing and other cutting edge technologies. Since MakerGirl’s inception in 2014 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, over 3,000 young girls have been impacted by the initiative. We separate ourselves from other organizations doing similar work in STEM education by helping young girls improve their digital skills by giving them access to online CAD software and 3D printers. This shows girls that they can be both analytical and creative in one space. MakerGirl is also able to reach girls in rural communities through our #MakerGirlGoesMobile tours.Over the past two summers MakerGirl has traveled over 12,700 miles to 18 states.
Last spring, MakerGirl created its first academy at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. We hosted three successful pilot sessions and impacted 36 girls. Northwestern’s goal is to impact at least 100 girls in their first year of operation. MakerGirl plans to continue to open academies at other universities in cities like Chicago, Milwaukee and beyond. MakerGirl embodies what it means to drive change to young women and girls all over the country by working towards a vision where girls live and dream as unstoppable forces that say “yes” to the challenges of the future, leading to gender equality in all workplaces. MakerGirl plans to reach 10,000 girls by 2023.
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