March 04, 2016      

The lack of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields is an ongoing problem. A new study found that this hole in the STEM pipeline begins before kindergarten, which is much earlier than many thought. Here’s another alarming statistic: of 100 females who graduate with a bachelor’s degree in STEM, only 3 percent continue in science or engineering 10 years after graduation.

There are many things that need to be done to combat this issue, including ridding the stereotypes that men are better suited for STEM than women and that STEM is boring. A non-profit organization founded at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is trying to do just that.

MakerGirl is encouraging young girls ages 7-10 to become leaders in STEM fields. MakerGirl introduces young girls to STEM through interactive 3D printing workshops where the girls brainstorm, design and print their own projects. To date, MakerGirl has hosted more than 55 sessions with more than 470 participants.

Each session has a fun theme like fashion or sports to show that any passion can be combined with STEM knowledge. MakerGirl hopes to inspire young thinkers to gain interest in these areas and pursue a career in STEM fields.

To expand its reach, MakerGirl is creating a 3D printing lab on wheels to bring its workshops to rural areas across that United States where this type of technology is not typically available to young female students. MakerGirl launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund this endeavor, looking to raise $30,000 to cover the expenses to furnish and operate each session with 3D printers and laptops, along with covering the travel and board costs for our travel team. At press time, the campaign had raised $7,314 from 125 backers. There’s still 27 days to go, but come on folks, we can do better than this.

Elizabeth Engele, co-founder and executive director of MakerGirl, joined the Robotics Trends Show this week to talk about the importance of getting young girls interested in STEM fields. Engele discussed how parents can get their kids excited about STEM education and plans to expand MakerGirl’s reach into different age brackets in the future.

Inside the 3D Printing Workshops

MakerGirl currently holds its sessions at the University of Illinois’ MakerLab, the world’s first Business School 3D Printing Lab. With over 15 Ultimaker 3D Printers, the 3D printing sessions allow girls to create and envision ideas, while also giving them the satisfaction of being able to hold their creation in their hands at the end.

Each session lasts about two hours and can be divided into three sections:

The Brainstorming Process: At the beginning of each session, the girls are introduced with either a problem or an area that 3D printing has been impacting. For example, in a recent session, MakerGirl introduced 3D-printed prosthetics and asked girls to design an object that can help someone. They are then given time to brainstorm their ideas and design them on paper.

MakerGirl Sessions held at the University of Illinois MakerLab. (Credit: MakerGirl)

The Design Process: The girls then begin designing their object on a simple CAD, an easy-to-design 3D modelling software. This kid-friendly software allows the girls to easily create and combine shapes and text together to create their object. Once complete, MakerGirl transfers the design onto the 3D printing software and adjust the sizing and final printing options.

The Printing Process: Printing generally takes less than 20 minutes, where girls can see their creation come to life layer by layer. For many girls who have never seen a 3D printer prior to a session, this part of the session teaches them the step-by-step process of 3D printing. They are able to fully explain how a 3D printer works and are always eager to teach their parents when they come to pick them up. After printing their objects, the girls then showcase their design to other students and parents and explain their creation.

MakerGirl’s upcoming 3D printing workshop tour. (Credit: MakerGirl)

MakerGirl’s U.S. 3D Printing Tour

MakerGirl has quite finalized its 3D printing tour across the U.S. just yet, but its goal is to reach communities where 3D printing technology is not easily accessible to young girls. If you know of a location that would be interested in a MakerGirl 3D printing workshop, let them know at [email protected]

The tour will be spread out across 8-10 weeks so MakerGirl can reach as many communities. This includes reaching out to schools and summer camps, while also partnering with Makerlabs, FabLabs, Girl Scouts along the way.

Listen to the podcast using the embedded player below and share your thoughts on MakerGirl.