Made By Me, for the world

by: Elizabeth Engele

Growing up, one of my favorite activities was going to a store with my aunts in St. Louis called Made By Me. We spent hours at this craft shop prepping my notebooks for the next school year or cutting and pasting magazine clippings to turn into a customized purse or gifts for my friends. The items were sentimental because they included pictures of role model athletes and celebrities, inspiring quotes, and pictures of places I would want to vacation to, somewhat like a vision board.  Every single time, I confidently wore that purse to movie dates with my family or proudly displayed the fact that my school notebooks were unique. It was also special to go with my creative, cool aunts who I only saw once in a great while.

My experiences at Made By Me—to this day— stand out in my childhood. Not only did I get to spend hours on hours of “play” time with my aunts in a creative environment, but I was given and received confidence while my aunts and I would gush over the pieces that we had created together.  After sending Made By Me gifts to a long-distance friend and hearing her burst with joy, I was shown how giving is better than receiving. It didn’t matter if the items created were a little mod podge messy, what mattered is that I left Made By Me with a treasured experience in which I learned the power of creative confidence and generosity. The power of making still resonates with me today, 20 years later, because of my Made By Me experience.  

In a social entrepreneurship class senior year at the University of Illinois, I was asked to create a solution countering the question of what bothers me.  It bothers me that more girls don’t have the confidence to build, and girls don’t go into STEM for two reasons:

1. They don’t think STEM is creative.

2. They don’t think they can make an impact with STEM.  

I immediately thought of my Made By Me experience because it solves both of these gaps--creativity for obvious reasons and crafting products that I would actually use showed me that I can have an impact.  I chose 3D printing as the experience because girls can act like architects when crafting items on TinkerCad, and be proud to show off their 3D printed items at the end, just like I had while crafting my purses and notebooks.

I look back and realize that it is this  experience that instilled a “maker mindset” within me.  A “maker mindset,” as defined by MakerGirl, is one that allows girls (and boys) to say “yes to the challenges of the future”. It enabled me to understand that I have the power to make beautiful ideas come to life.

No matter the age, I would encourage fostering a maker mindset for the following reasons:

  • Confidence:  For someone with a maker mindset, it’s not  about “if” I will built it, it’s about “how.”  I still have confidence in my ability to make cards and send them to my friends, even if I have no formal art training. That’s because of my “Made By Me” experience.

  • Positivity / Happiness: When you have a maker mindset, challenges aren’t frustrating obstacles, but rather opportunities to learn and think creatively. For example, one morning, I was annoyed when my computer wouldn’t start to take notes for my sales call, so I  ended up doodling the notes instead. I know it sounds cheesy, but this creative exercise made my morning memorable and fun!

  • Teamwork:  People with maker mindsets are confident in their strengths and admit to their flaws. They see team projects as opportunities to bring out the best in people and learn from others. A maker mindset takes out the ego that can often get in the way of effective teamwork.

Of course, these three traits cannot be instilled with just one experience, but multiple “Made By Me” experiences can empower someone to develop their maker identity.  There is one simple process, that if repeated multiple times, can instill this identity:

Make → Affirm → Reflect → Repeat

This model allows for rapid prototyping. Rapid prototyping makes it easier to overcome tomorrow’s challenges. Solving worthy problems in challenging industries starts with a maker mindset because it allows one to think big by starting with baby steps.

On a tactical level, here’s how I would suggest developing a maker mindset in both children and adults:

  1. Get involved in the social community of making: Attend local Maker Faire events, where you can learn about cutting-edge technology toys like UltimakerRaspberry Pi, and Arduino kits.

  2. Ensure time is set aside for play: Whether it be cooking a new recipe, making a card for a loved one, etc. Prioritize one play activity per week to ensure your mind has time to wander and explore.

  3. Bring fellow makers (a'hem, everyone) into the conversation: Always ask for feedback because self-improvement is never complete. One of my favorite questions is, “Tell me on thing I don’t want to hear.” It gives the other person space to say one thing she/he might not have brought up before. The question allows for honesty and creativity into seeing another person’s perspective. I can’t imagine how limitless the responses would be from kids when asking for their constructive feedback.

I define myself as a maker because I was affirmed of that as a child and still practice it as an adult. In building MakerGirl, I’m always trying to to innovate and in my full-time role LinkedIn, I’m eager to create new ways of connecting with my team and the thousands of nonprofits I serve. With experiences like Made By Me and now MakerGirl, we are creating makers who will transform their communities and world.

I’d love to learn from you.  In what ways have you?

  • Allowed time to make?

  • Found little or sizable ways to encourage your community of makers?

(Originally posted on Elizabeth’s LinkedIn profile.)