Wired In: Stephanie Hein

Wired In: Stephanie Hein

Each week, staff writer Paul Wood talks with a high-tech difference-maker. This week, meet STEPHANIE HEIN, the first CEO for MakerGirl, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and inspiring young girls to pursue science, technology, engineering and math fields through 3D-printing sessions. Hein is a 2016 University of Illinois graduate who is set to move back here in September. One of her main responsibilities will be creating new MakerGirl "academies," starting with universities in the Midwest and eventually expanding nationwide.

Who are your co-founders?

MakerGirl co-founder and Gies College of Business graduate Julia Haried has two degrees and is a full-time employee at Deloitte in audit and assurance. Co-founder Elizabeth Engele, a 2015 UI graduate, works full time at LinkedIn Chicago as a nonprofit account executive.

What did the Geis College of Business do for you?

The Gies College of Business supported the launch and growth of MakerGirl in many ways. During a Gies study-abroad lunch in 2013, a friend told me to check out a social-entrepreneurship class he was assisting with that was cross-listed between the Gies College of Business and the School of Social Work. In that class, the idea was born and incubated by myself and Engele and supported by course instructors. The idea was further launched in the iVenture Accelerator, a Gies-supported venture accelerator that gave us $10,000, mentorship and a summer to grow MakerGirl's impact at the Research Park.

How big can this project grow?

The opportunities are truly limitless. After we expand across the Midwest, we would like to expand across the United States to any interested college or university town that has a team of ChangeMakers who are capable of building a MakerGirl academy. To reach girls in underserved and rural areas who are not living in or near college towns, we have #MakerGirlGoesMobile. We would eventually like to have mobile trucks traveling across the United States every summer to reach all girls.

Who else is on the team?

We have a team of about 15 ChangeMakers at the University of Illinois, four directors at Northwestern and five advisers. Our 20-plus alums are still also considered ChangeMakers because they are using their MakerGirl experience to "build the change they wish to see" in their workplaces and communities. The three of us want to have MakerGirl to impact 10,000 girls by 2023, including half from underrepresented and rural communities.

How did you arrive at this goal?

Elizabeth says that if every academy reaches 100 girls per year, and we add one more academy than we built in the last year, while continuing our #MakerGirlGoesMobile sessions, this will be an achievable goal. It's critical that we reach girls that typically would not have as much of a privilege to grow up having a "maker" mind-set, which is why we aim to reach girls in rural and underserved communities.

And you're growing?

MakerGirl originally offered 3D-printing courses only at Illinois, but it has since expanded to other academies at Northwestern and UIC. A partnership with DePaul University should be finalized soon, with plans to take the nonprofit to universities in the Midwest and beyond.

What can people learn from using these tools?

On one level, they learn the basic design process. They start with brainstorming an idea, drawing and refining the design, creating it digitally and then watching it come to life on the 3D printer. On another level, they learn that STEM is more than math problems and mixing chemicals; it also involves creative thinking.

TECH TIDBITS ... from STEPHANIE HEIN

Book or Kindle? What are you reading right now? Books. I'm guilty of attempting to read multiple books at the same time, so I'm currently reading "Shoe Dog" by Phil Knight, "Girl, Wash Your Face" by Rachel Hollis and "Principles" by Ray Dalio.

Do you have an entrepreneur hero? Aric and Jon Klar, former bosses who founded Toyology Toys, a toy-store business in the metro Detroit area. The most valuable lesson I learned from them is the importance of investing in your team, both professionally and personally. Their creativity, hard work and passion have also allowed them to thrive in an industry where companies and stores continue to close, which I find incredibly inspiring!