We speak with MakerGirl’s Executive Director, Mary Hadley, about the importance of early access to 3D printing.
MakerGirl, which recently formed an important partnership with 3D printing mainstay EOS, celebrated its fifth anniversary early this month. Over the last half-decade, the organization has educated 4,000 girls aged 7-10 to open up possibilities in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) subject areas including 3D printing.
It’s been quite a tale of growth as the founders and driven team all volunteer their time and efforts to expanding exposure to and building comfort with technology.
Hadley stepped into the full-time Executive Director role this summer. The announcement of her appointment notes:
“Mary will play a key role in supporting the organization’s mission to inspire girls to be unstoppable forces in STEM; working towards gender equality in all workplaces. Hadley’s responsibilities include overseeing fundraising opportunities, MakerGirl Academy growth, and molding MakerGirl sessions to be irresistible. Since inception, MakerGirl has expanded across the United States to seven University Academies while impacting more than 3,800 girls.”
Hadley has been involved in the organization since the summer of 2017, when MakerGirl was launching their second road trip. The now-annual road trip event, #MakerGirlGoesMobile, travels throughout several US states. In 2017, Hadley joined the MakerGirl crew on a trip through six Midwest states, ready to jump in: “I basically dropped a class I was going to do that summer and hopped on the bus…We went to six states, educating 400 girls in sessions that summer.”
Stops for #MakerGirlGoesMobile 2019 [Image: MakerGirl]
A major drive for MakerGirl is to create a more equitable field — straight from STEM-experienced leaders who are used to being the only women in a room.
Of making the decision to jump on that bus and jump in on the mission, Hadley explains:
“I really relate to the mission. I was a chemistry major at the time, and always experienced the feeling of being different as a woman in STEM. I wanted to work with the girls who are the only girl in their calculus class and feeling how they might be treated differently in class. I became part of our sponsorship team that year, working with different companies in that first expansion, and starting with our first additional campus. I interned with MakerGirl that summer and started managing our team at the University of Illinois.”
That feeling of difference, of otherness, remains a barrier for younger girls and women in STEM classes and careers.
And it’s one that Hadley understands well from her own experiences.
“While we were working on a new topic [in a chemistry class], someone had a similar question to what I had had and explained to a male student as if he was 20 years old. When I asked for follow-up, he talked to me like I was a second grader,” Hadley recalled of a specific moment that spurred her on to become more active. “It was definitely that change in tone to make the material we were trying to learn, as if for a small child, that really feels like a bit of an ‘ouch’ moment because we were all sophomores and juniors in college at the time. I was like, ‘Oh, that was different.’ It was definitely one of the times I was getting fired up in working with MakerGirl — that’s how I was treated most of the time in that class. That’s just one moment when I remember thinking, ‘Oh, that wasn’t right’.”
So how does MakerGirl operate?
The organization’s flagship campus is where it all started, at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. It’s all expanded out from there, with more universities creating chapters of their own.
Launching these new academies involves a lot of outreach — and that’s picking up momentum. Connecting at other events with like-minded individuals has proven key. Hadley pointed to a panel last year at South by Southwest that featured a speaker from Girl Up, which then launched a conversation about their similar missions and has led to a pilot program at the University of Austin.
“I’ve been talking to them since the summer and we’re starting to pilot the program with the help of different people in the university. They have a library on campus with 3D printers, and we started there, hosting a pilot session with 8-15 girls,” Hadley said.
This Texan effort proved a good way to dive into how these pilots turn into full-fledged academies for MakerGirl’s mission.
“I travel to that academy and train them in our curriculum: how we run our sessions, different ways of using the 3D printers that may be different from how a lab might use them for a simple workshop. We run the first one, then they run about two more before the semester ends, to get interest in the area. We work with different girls’ groups, like Girl Scouts and from elementary schools,” she said.
For the sessions, MakerGirl instructors use a curriculum developed in a successful academy.
“Each curriculum has a theme to it,” Hadley explained. “One of our more popular sessions is animals, where we’re teaching young girls how we’re using 3D printing with prosthetics for animals; or fashion, where the 3D printing process is used in the design of different designers or how Nike is using 3D printing in their shoes, and then maybe use basic block coding to make a bracelet with their name.”
Equipment used is often dependent on what’s available at a current location. #MakerGirlGoesMobile events use Ultimaker 3D printers, as the Dutch company donated 15 machines for the first road tip. Some of these are available for use on campuses that need 3D printer access.
Now that it’s been five years, how has MakerGirl been doing?
“We work with ages 7-10, as we’d found the age of 11 is when girls start saying ‘no’ to STEM activities more,” Hadley said. “It’s also a great age range as Girl Scouts and others are looking for activities around then. We’ve had a lot of success with that. We like to make sure it’s new girls all the time, with bring a friend or bring a sibling events, where you’re building out your friend group into the sessions as well.”
With events growing and bringing in more interested girls each time, it’s impressive to see that MakerGirl has already reached 4,000 program participants.
These girls, of course, aren’t the only people affected. Hadley shared the story of one of MakerGirl’s first members, Addy, who “recently moved to the Portland area and is starting her own MakerGirl academy in the Portland area because she wanted to continue with it.”
The organization has changed its data collection practice, but is planning to “continue to reach out to parents further down to see if [their daughters] continue with STEM activities” to track program progress in keeping girls interested and involved in these areas.
MakerGirl is currently run with a full-time team of one (Hadley), along with the two co-founders who continue to drive the mission in addition to their own full-time jobs, as well as 25-30 volunteers who work on six different campuses around the US.
Anyone interested in getting involved with MakerGirl can reach out to [email protected] for more information on bringing the organization to their area.