How we inspired 1200 7-10 year old girls in 53 cities to pursue STEM: the “Just Do It” mentality

By Elizabeth Engele

What bothers you?

This was the big question posed in my “for fun” social entrepreneurship class that I had taken in one of my last semesters of university.  In Noah Isserman and Ryan Singh’sclass, students from business, social work, engineering, and more were challenged to create a social venture for the problem that bothered us.  I immediately thought about several of my female peers--on a campus that I had fought so badly to be a part of, I was frustrated listening to the non-opportunistic conversations that I found myself engaging in.  On a campus that offered the ability to do absolutely ANYTHING, I wanted to feel inspired and challenged; however, I found myself not feeling that way a majority of times.  I wanted girls to feel like they could “make” absolutely anything they wanted out of their passions and skills to drive opportunities.   From this frustration and a little research on how a STEM education encourages a “maker” mindset, MakerGirl was born.


Through themed 3D printing sessions offered to 7-10 year old girls, MakerGirl shows girls that being creative and analytical are not mutually exclusive and that any passion (fashion, sports, etc.) can be combined with STEM to create solutions.  In a short 1.5 years, MakerGirl has gone from a pilot session in which 3 co-founders could barely do 3D prints on our own (due to a lack of previous practice) to a team of ~20 Change Makers inspiring 1200 girls across the nation to pursue STEM.  


The main driver for these accolades is the mentality that got us started:  just go for it.


In November of 2014, before our first session, the original co-founders and I were spending way too much time planning out every short-term and long-term aspect of MakerGirl (revenue, logistics, marketing, etc.) until Professor Isserman came to our desks and said, “Why don’t you just try a session?  That is the only way you will know if this is a valuable idea.”


Our first session was a trainwreck--there were 3 business majors trying to teach young girls how to use 3D printers when we were novices.  Not to mention, about 7 of the 10 printers were broken, and we couldn’t even complete the 10 minute prints for the girls to go home in time. . . but that was step 1.   We would not have known what we needed to learn without just going for the first session, even if it was chaotic.


The next semester, our demand grew to 6 sessions, and we gained new team members who were collegiate STEM leaders who embodied the MakerGirl core values (see below).  The next Summer, we were accepted into UIUC’s iVenture Accelerator to work on MakerGirl full-time for the summer.  We continued to gain more valuable Change Makers (team members) and connections which enabled us to inspire more MakerGirls.  All of this growth led us to thinking and dreaming bigger.


Thinking back to my childhood, while growing up in a small town, I did not have as many creative learning opportunities like MakerGirl so one of my goals was to bring the sessions to girls like myself.  This thought was one of the drivers #MakerGirlGoesMobile, a dream that we had to take the 3D printing sessions across the country to a diversity of girls.


Again, we had no idea how we would raise over $50K to do the project or how we would attract all the girls or how we would even receive truck insurance, but we just did it.  After reaching $15K of the $30K Kickstarter, I had no idea how we would raise the last half since all of our resources seemed to be tapped.  Even after the Kickstarter, we had significant questions unanswered like getting an RV versus a trailer, but again, we figured it out as time progressed.


Throughout the mobile project, we have had mayors proclaiming MakerGirl holidays and e-mails stating that we have changed girls’ lives, and none of that would have been possible without Noah nudging us to just go for attempting the first session.


“Just do it”--sounds like a simple concept, and it is, but it is the only step to get started on a big journey.  It is a simple concept, taught by some of the world’s leading innovators like leaders of Google X as well as my friend and professor, Noah Isserman. It is how some of the world’s leading products and services get built.  It is how habits can be broken and formed.

After all, the journey of 1000 miles begins with a single 3D print. 




#MakerGirlGoesMobile could not have been possible without the support of our Kickstarter donors as well as our sponsors and partners:  Avant, Abbott Laboratories, Workiva, Hyatt, Parker Hannifan, Illinois MakerLab, Ultimaker, Johnson Controls, and Preemadonna.  If you are interested in starting a MakerGirl academy in your town, please e-mail me at