By Stephanie Brand, Class XXVI
In the wake of recent events, the world has been subject to challenges and changes that have tested all of our capacities to adapt. T&M affiliates and alumni have continued to respond to the many variables of these unprecedented times with grace, ingenuity, and an eye for opportunity.
For Elizabeth Engele, T&M Class XIX alumnus and co-founder of MakerGirl, the need for adaptation and the humble acceptance of challenges is quite familiar. Engele co-founded the organization with Mary Hadley and also works alongside Julia Haried, the current executive director, both UIUC alumni in Chemistry and Accounting respectively. MakerGirl is a not for profit organization that offers 3D printing sessions to girls ages 7-10 in order to introduce them to careers in STEM. What started as an assignment for a social entrepreneurship class during her undergraduate years, has now evolved into a hugely successful organization that has educated over 4,000 girls in 22 states and earned a spot in the 2020 Forbes 30 under 30 education list.
Having grown up in a rural community herself, Engele was aware that the gender gap in STEM fields could be widened by a variety of demographic variables. Although she grew up with “a desire to be thinking and making,” it didn’t align with her understanding of engineering, which at the time was limited to “working on tractors or cars.” Through MakerGirl, Engele has helped draw this connection for young girls. “3D printing sessions beautifully combined all of this, because girls go all the way from designing, to CADing, to having this item in the palm of their hands. And all of our sessions have themes, like fashion or animals, so that girls can see that STEM can be combined with their passions.”
As the organization continued to evolve into what it is today, Engele had to learn to balance the demands of her job and continued education with the development and adaptation of MakerGirl. In order to make MakerGirl sessions and workshops accessible to as many girls as possible, several branches of the organization are currently supported by university partnerships and student volunteers, known as “ChangeMakers”. Additionally, only a year after the organization was started in 2014, the #MakerGirlGoesMobile initiative was launched to bring their free 3D printing sessions directly to rural, underserved areas.
In response to COVID-19, the in-person programming sessions MakerGirl hosts have been suspended, however, Engele plans to “continue to… look through a lens where challenges are good. We look at this as an opportunity to make our programs more accessible for girls online, so now we’re not limited to whether you live near one of our participating universities: you can just go on YouTube and access it.”
Going forward, Engele hopes to continue to expand MakerGirl’s presence with the goal of having “every girl in the US to be a Maker Girl — which is someone that believes in dreams as an unstoppable force that says yes to the challenges of the future.”
And for the many students who are in the same position she was only a few years ago, Engele encourages taking advantage of the resources and opportunities available, from seeking out chances to work with people different than yourself, to starting a business whose success is unknown. “This is a really cool time in your life to build and dream. So build and dream as big as you can.”
Stephanie is currently in T&M Class XXVI and is a sophomore in Systems Engineering & Design