MakerGirl Northwestern Academy: One Year Later and Moving Forward

by: Nancy Yao

On January 15th of last year, my soon-to-be co-director Amanda and I walked into a Whole Foods in Chicago and were greeted with a hug by MakerGirl co-founder Lizzy Engele for the first time.

At the time, I had only heard about MakerGirl from a contact in Northwestern’s SWE chapter, and had obtained cursory knowledge from browsing the website – not much, but enough for me to see the great things MakerGirl was accomplishing. My goal in setting up a meeting with Lizzy was simply to gauge how Northwestern students could get involved helping out at MakerGirl sessions. Our future partnership was a vague, far-off idea and the concept of forming our own academy was something I had barely considered.

Hearing Lizzy talk about MakerGirl and its mission was a turning point for me – her passion for this organization and its impact was captivating. That two college students founded this organization which has grown so much in just a few years seemed impossible.

Now, just one eventful year after that first meeting, it’s crazy to see how far the Northwestern Academy has come. In 2018, we built a network from scratch of Evanston and Chicago area schools, libraries, and parent associations, and had opportunities to partner with other established organizations doing great work with kids, such as Codeverse and the Girl Scouts. We laid the foundation of our new academy, built a team of 12 brilliant female university students, and organized four successful sessions.

And for me, MakerGirl was the most defining experience of my final year in college. Last December, I finished my time at Northwestern. As sad as it is to step back from my role in MakerGirl, I know I’m leaving it in great hands. I’ve loved working so closely with my amazing co-directors, Rika and Amanda, and the rest of our Northwestern team, and I can’t thank them enough for the journey and accomplishments we’ve achieved together.

The past year was a whirlwind of scheduling meetings and attending conference calls, recruiting team members and working out session logistics. It was exhausting at times, but every session we held was the only reminder I needed for why we do what we do. The elementary school girls who attended had an excitement for designing and creating that is so easy for us college students to forget. At that age, curiosity and creativity come so naturally to kids, and they’re free to learn without worrying about limitations – I could see that in the way they were so focused working with TinkerCAD or watching the prints. Girls who were shy at the beginning of a session became animated and talkative within an hour, and every girl who attended left happy.

I joined MakerGirl because as a computer science student, I was already starting to see what it was like to work in an overwhelmingly male-dominated industry. As I move forward and move on to work in the tech industry, it’s comforting to know that there are bright young girls out there being exposed to STEM and being given access to mentorship from the strong and ambitious women I’ve met through MakerGirl.