What is your story?
I have always had a passion for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields since I was young, but my interests were expanded in high school with my most memorable teachers being from the science departments. I chose to study Chemistry for my undergrad at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). While studying, I often noticed the gender gap in my technical classes and the underrepresentation of my female peers. Towards the end of my sophomore year, I was introduced to the not-for-profit startup, MakerGirl. MakerGirl has educated nearly 4,000 girls in 22 states about STEM through 3D printing sessions. I became interested in getting involved as I wish there was a program like MakerGirl when I was younger.
In 2017, I led MakerGirl’s second summer road trip to six different states educating over 520 girls throughout 37 sessions. Over the next two years, I helped manage our team at UIUC through different positions on our leadership team including Sponsorship Director, Curriculum Director and Managing Director. This past fall I was fortunate enough to be recognized as one of Chicago Inno’s 25 under 25 and was shortlisted for two Women in IT Awards (Diversity Initiative of the Year and Rising Star of the Year) for my work with MakerGirl. This July, I started with the organization full-time as our Executive Director.
What message do you like to promote to others?
Never be afraid to reach out and ask for what you want in life; the worst thing someone can say is “no.” I have found while working for a not-for-profit, with a lot of emphasis on fundraising, that the worst thing someone could say is that they are not interested or won’t be lending their support. But telling our story and sharing our mission has led to many incredible outcomes that vastly outweigh the “no’s.” It also shows that it is okay to fail, and that perfection is not everything. This is a lesson we try to emphasize in our workshops: even if you fail, it does not mean you cannot start over and try again. If you fail, whether it is at solving a problem in everyday life or solving a problem in CAD design, figure out why it happened, troubleshoot, then try a new solution.
In what capacity do you LEAD UP in your community?
Being a part of MakerGirl for the past couple of years has given me an incredible opportunity to serve as a mentor and role model to young girls in both my community and in communities across the country. Our workshops and sessions don’t just educate young girls on an important subject, they also give our participants a chance to flex their creative muscles in a fun and supportive environment. I, along with the rest of the MakerGirl team, try to model good behaviors to show our burgeoning young Makers the power of positivity and a “can-do” attitude. By giving young girls the tools they need to succeed and providing a little bit of guidance, we show the next generation of MakerGirls that with the right motivation they can do anything.
I have also been able to be a mentor to not just the young girls of my community, but to the university students we work with as well. MakerGirl’s mission and unique approach has attracted many talented and driven women in STEM who have tirelessly given their time and energy to our cause. I have had a chance to watch many university students rise to the occasion and grow both personally and professionally during my time. And with our expanding network of Academies I hope to meet many more to come. I have had the pleasure of introducing many of our current and former volunteers to the not-for-profit realm and shown them how they can get involved with not-for-profit organizations in their communities. In this way, the positivity snowballs and our entire community benefits.
In business and/or in life, share a struggle you overcame that other women can relate to?
One struggle I have continuously faced and overcome is proving that my career goals and interests were just as valuable even if they were not the norm. When I decided to go into a STEM major, I had people make comments about the difficulty of the major almost daily when discussing my career goals in everyday conversation. It made me second guess myself and wonder if I would be up for the challenge. I had to overcome the feeling that I didn’t belong, because even if they did not directly say others made me feel like I should leave.
This drive to constantly prove my goals were valuable continued when I decided to go into the not-for-profit world as a full-time career. Many people asked if I was going to find a “real job” or if I was going to continue to work for MakerGirl. They did not view my goals as traditional since I was entering a startup not-for-profit where there would be only one other full-time employee. I had to prove to them that continuing my passion to educate more girls about STEM and 3D printing was okay even if it would not have been their choice. I think other women can relate to the need to prove yourself to others in any part of your career. The perseverance it takes to not get discouraged from your goals is something that makes us stronger overall.
Did you have a Mentor, Coach or Sponsor along the way that was essential to your growth and success? If so, who was it and why?
MakerGirl’s two Co-Founders, Elizabeth Engele and Julia Haried, have been amazing mentors to me and were essential to my success with the organization. They both managed full-time jobs outside of the organization while also devoting a lot of their free time to MakerGirl. They have mentored me in how to not only be a storyteller of the origin of the organization, but how to convey to individuals and donors that each team member’s unique MakerGirl story matters and needs to be shared. I have learned from them how to become an effective leader and how to be someone who drives change. Their devotion to the individuals they work with shows the appreciation they have for all of their student volunteers and full-time staff.
Stephanie Hein, our full-time CEO, has been an amazing mentor as well over the past year. She was MakerGirl’s first full-time employee and has laid an incredible foundation for the role. Stephanie taught me how to work with our teams at the academies across the nation and is always glad to lend a hand or an ear with any project I have needed help on.
What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
The most rewarding aspect is working for an organization whose vision is that girls live and dream as unstoppable forces that say yes to the challenges of the future. I know that every day I am working towards a mission I believe in and get to share that mission with so many others. The other rewarding moments come when I am able to be a part of the actual sessions. I love the way each girl’s face lights up with joy and pride when they see their personalized 3D object coming off the printer and into their hands for them to take home as a memory of their experience.
If you could give one piece of advice for women who are entering the workforce or launching their own business what would that be?
Do not let the success of others define yours. We tend to compare our success to what other people are achieving around us. If you are entering the workforce or launching your own business, try to not compare yourself to anyone else. Each person’s story is unique, and some take more time than others to find their version of success. Instead seek advice from people who have been able to achieve what you hope to and ask questions that further your ideas and goals. Always continue to work on yourself and your career goals without the expectations set by others.
Make sure to follow Mary and MakerGirl on social media!