Frankly's #WCW (Woman Crush Wednesday) series features some of our favorite female founders who are focused on providing goods and services that improve the lives of women and girls.
Today we welcome, Lizzy Engele of MakerGirl, a program that helps educate girls in STEM. We are so excited to cover the important work you are doing at MakerGirl!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up on a farm in Southern Illinois where I learned the joy of "tinkering," and this intimate community created an incessant curiosity to learn about the world and people that were different from me which is now one of my greatest strengths. I ended up majoring in Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign because I thought this area combined math and creativity well, and I loved working "cross-functionally" with fellow engineering friends while in the Hoeft Technology & Management program. In a "just for fun" class my senior year, I co-founded MakerGirl along with Julia Haried. After graduating, I went on to be in sales (one of the last professions I ever saw myself doing!) through LinkedIn's Business Leadership Program. All the while, Julia and I were working on MakerGirl part-time. Due to the joy of building MakerGirl, I pivoted to getting a Master's in Design degree at the IIT's Institute of Design in Chicago where I'm learning about topics like systems, creating exceptional experiences from the inside out, and the ethics of technology. While not in school or working on MakerGirl, I am volunteering for Park Community Church, reading, running, or baking!
Can you tell us more about what MakerGirl does, in your own words?
Through 3D printing sessions led by college women and men, MakerGirl shows 7-10 year old girls that they have the power to be makers and builders. Our vision is that girls live and dream as unstoppable forces that say "yes!" to the challenges of the future! All of our sessions are themed around topics girls are already interested in, like fashion and sports, showing girls that STEM is something they can combine their pre-existing interests in a STEM-related capacity. As a little girl, I thought being an engineer meant working in a machine shop so perception is important! We do not necessarily expect to be the reason that a girl chooses a STEM-related career, but we want to capture girls' interest right before a time when they might start thinking, "this is not for me."
Why ages 7-10 specifically? And why did you start with 3-D printing?
Studies show that children start saying "no" and shutting out new opportunities around middle school (ages 11 - 14) so it is important to show them what they are capable of while they are young. Research also shows that girls don't pursue STEM because they don't think it's creative nor do they think they can make an impact with it. 3D printing shows girls that being technical and creative are not mutually exclusive yet work really well together, and there's so much power in holding something you designed. Do you remember when you made something as a kid that you were really proud of? These impressions matter!
What does it mean to you to be a mission-driven organization? How does that impact choices you make?
Every organization should be "mission-driven" to help people and the planet in some capacity, even if they do not have the 501c3 status or consider itself a "social impact" company. Being mission driven makes decisions much easier. When questioning whether to go a new direction or pursue a new partnership, it all comes back to the MakerGirl and our ChangeMakers. I ask myself questions like, "will this decision help more girls learn about STEM?," "will this help girls be excited about STEM throughout their entire lives, even if they don't necessarily become an engineer or a doctor?," or "will this inspire our ChangeMakers to as engaging an experience as possible for MakerGirls?"
A big part of the MakerGirl story is the question "What bothers you." I'd love to hear more about how you answered that question when starting MakerGirl and what bothers you today.
I felt incredibly lucky to be on a campus of limitless opportunity (the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). I felt like I could make anything I want come to life with the talented individuals and resources around me, yet I did not feel the same drive from several of my women peers nor did I observe women making companies or products come to life in university. I started questioning the lack of women makers in the world. Of course, I came across the lack of girls in STEM and found that girls do not pursue STEM because they don't see it as creative nor do they think they can have an impact in STEM which is why we chose 3D printing--it beautifully combines being creative and technical with a finished product in hand.
Right now, I'm really bothered by the polarization that is happening in the world. We must seek out ways to think and learn from people that have different viewpoints than us and be humble and graceful in the process, something I'm always working on. I'm also bothered by the impact social media is having on middle school children (and all humans) and think it is important to set boundaries around such tools. Check out Half the Story and Netflix's The Social Dilemma for more on this.
How do you think about equity and inclusion as you design your business model and programs at MakerGirl?
Our goal is that half of MakerGirls come from rural and underrepresented communities. With that, we market our sessions to a plethora of different groups. We also strive to make the ChangeMaker (volunteer) experience equitable by recruiting to different groups and sharing vulnerably at our annual ChangeMaker summit--our annual training and bonding weekend. Equity and inclusion requires continual measurement and iteration. With that, we are doing a better job at sending out surveys to parents and MakerGirls as well as figuring out new ways to get diverse groups of girls in MakerGirl sessions.
What advice do you have for young women who want to be founders?
I have three big pieces of advice:
- Don't get into your head too much or overthink things. Have a partner, whether inside or outside of your company, that can set you straight and tell you when you're being hard on yourself.
- Do one thing every day, even if it's small, to get you closer to your realizable dream.
- Women can be so self critical, but know that you bring a unique perspective that needs to be heard, and there's no one way to do things!
MakerGirl was (and still is!) taking off when you decided to go back for your masters. What prompted that decision?
Thank you! Yes, it is very exciting. I've always been interested in the interplay between humans and services. It is amazing how one small engagement, whether as a child or even as an adult, can flip the way we perceive ourselves or others. We see this in social media, in workout classes, etc., whether for better or worse. I've always wanted to go back to school because I love academic environments, and I believe crafting these "meaningful experiences" are important to show individuals their power. As well, as technology becomes more advanced and our working conditions continue to change, the human-centered design field will be more and more relevant for decision making around keeping the right people in control and ensuring we are happy and learning in the process.
What's the best way for parents and others to get young women more involved with STEM, especially during COVID?
Find what your daughter is already interested in, and have an ongoing conversation about how STEM is relevant to that. For example, if she likes fashion, show YouTube videos of 3D printed dresses or if she likes sports, discuss the statistics involved in team management. I'd also recommend exposing girls to women in STEM--if you have a female friend or family member, set up a zoom call with that person and have her discuss why she likes her job. There are ALL KINDS of accessible virtual programming out there for girls to be knowledgeable in STEM--check out our virtual sessions!
Anything else that is important for us to know about you or MakerGirl?
One of our MakerGirl values is "always be iterating." As women, we have many relationships, activities, personal, and professional goals to balance so I think it's important to think about life as a constant prototype. The pandemic has magnified the way I think about my routines which has been challenging yet refreshing. I'm always reflecting on what media I'm consuming, my daily food and work routines, and my goals and iterating on them to grow into the person I was created to be.