Resident Spotlight: MakerGirl

What started off as a project through Northwestern’s Society of Women Engineers blossomed into a new chapter of MakerGirl in the spring of 2018. This Northwestern chapter is directed by Amanda Mirande, Nancy Yao and Rika Ko. The program teaches young girls about STEM through 3D printing classes. MakerGirl is headquartered at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The Garage sat down with the directors to learn how MakerGirl takes girls from pencils to prints.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

On teaching

Nancy Yao: We do a little presentation on what is 3D printing and how the 3D printers work. Based on the theme that we have, we encourage the girls to draw with pencils and paper what kinds of things they would want to design to create as 3D objects later. After that we use a program called Tinkercad. It’s like a 3D printing CAD software, but it’s targeted towards beginners and children. That’ll be where they actually get to turn the drawings that they made into a 3D object on the screen. The volunteers will send those 3D CAD files to the 3D printers, and then the girls can watch them print on the 3D printers, which they’re always really interested in doing. For the remaining time we’ll have mentors lead some themed class activities while they wait for the prints to finish.

Amanda Mirande: The lesson that they take is if you have something on paper, you can make that into something real. I think that’s pretty powerful. Also, you’re working within constraints, which I think is a big life lesson. You’re working within constraints but you can still make something super cool.

On inspiration

Rika Ko: I think about all the times I was younger and I think I definitely showed a lot of inclination towards STEM subjects. I just feel like if I had something like [MakerGirl] that my parents were aware of when I was younger, this fascination could have turned into something much deeper earlier on.

NY: The girls that we reach are around the age of 7 to 10, so they are at an age where they have a lot of potential. I think it’s really important for them to know that going into science and learning about technology is a very real possibility for them.

On reactions

RK: [The girls are] just ecstatic to show their parents when they come. They’re so proud of themselves, and they should be. I think the parents are also really, really supportive. We’ve had some repeat girls come, and every time the moms are like, “This is amazing. I’m trying to get my friends to bring their kids to it.” It’s a good way to get your child learning, but also having fun.

AM: Parents, whenever they come pick [their children] up, are super excited to see whatever they created.

On team

NY: We’ve been talking to different groups outside of Northwestern to see about partnering with different schools and organizations like Girl Scouts. It’s really a big time for growth right now. We’re trying to reach more girls than ever.

RK: We recently had applications for expanding our team at Northwestern, which is super exciting because up until a few weeks ago, it’s just been me, Nancy and Amanda trying to take care of everything. Hopefully we’ll be able to cover more ground by having more people.

AM: My team is pretty key. I feel like we all have strengths. We work well together, and that’s super important.

MakerGirl hopes to add lessons on virtual reality. The directors aim to continue inspiring confidence in young girls and teach them that they are fully capable of pursuing their interest in STEM. For more information, visit MakerGirl’s Facebook page here or follow them on Instagram.