YTF’s 3D Printing Academy for Girls, sister program to 3D Africa, launched in the U.S.

Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF) held its first 3D Printing Academy for Girlsover spring break (April 4-8, 2016) to bring 3D printing to fifteen low-income 8-12 year old girls in YTF offices at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage in West Louisville, Kentucky.

3D Printing Academy for Girls was created to provide science, technology, engineering, and math inspiration for girls through making, inventing, and designing the world that they envision for themselves. Not only were they introduced to all things 3D printing, but they had opportunities to be mentored by women in technology and engineering.

Girls watched in rapt attention while virtual speakers modeled the making of 3D printed items—from a Google Image search to a circle on the computer to geometric applications in the software to the printed product. They learned that design and 3D printing skills can be used in any field. Girls were interested in why speakers became engineers, what it was like being a woman in technology, and hearing about their career journeys. Of encouragement to the girls was a speaker’s personal advice to not let anyone discourage them and to “embrace who you are”.

The program, envisioned by its founder and Ashoka social entrepreneur Njideka Harry to inspire young and adolescent girls to stay engaged with science and math through their precarious middle school years, is based on YTF’s 3D Africa  program in Nigeria and Kenya. Youth are taught how 3D printing allows them to meet local needs, be the innovators of the future, and create sustainable livelihoods for themselves.

Research has shown that adolescent girls disengage from science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) during their middle school years and that enrichment programs, such as YTF’s 3D Printing Academy for Girls, are a positive influence not only for staying interested but in choosing STEM careers in their future. Currently, only 24% of those in computer sciences are women (only 8% of African American women and 7% of Latino women). Only 15% of those in engineering fields are women (just 5% of African American women and 8% of Latino women).

The 3D Printing Academy for Girls was brought about by forging strong partnerships with technology, corporate, philanthropic, and local organizations. 3D printers, laptops, desktops, audio-visual equipment, software, supplies, materials, filament, and even food were all donated. Partners include local elementary and secondary schools, such universities as Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management and the University of Louisville J. B. Speed School of Engineering, such technology companies as Autodesk, 3DSystems, HP, SolidWorks, MakerBot, Stratasys, and McNeel North America, such corporations as GE, PPG Industries, Meijer, Office Depot, Target, and Walmart, and local vendors such as Learning Partners.

The women-in-technology mentors inspired, encouraged, and sparked the imaginations of participants:

  • “At 3D Printing Academy for Girls I learned that you cannot be discouraged by others just because you’re a girl. You’re smarter than you think you are.” (Kansas, 12)
  • “3D printing helps me with math and science—I love 3D printing!” (Anabelle, 7))
  • Engineers… “try to make the world better.” (Irena, 12)

Parents saw their girls be completely captivated every minute of every day, supported their child’s learning, and expressed great appreciation not only for the learning opportunity but for the women teachers and mentors.

  • “More than anything else, they had great teachers, but I think having women teaching other girls technology, women who look like her, is very beneficial.” (Kip, Parent)  
  • She’s “…seeing how science and technology connect. She’s able to think about making her own things, creating things with a 3D printer. She’s able to spark some imagination…” (Rachel, Parent)

For many, understanding the link between science, math, technology, and engineering is not a straight line. Nor is how these skills apply to a child’s future. Not so in this academy. Girls eagerly soaked-up math and geometry concepts in action: coordinates, measurement, angles, subdivision, color, time, variables, axis, planes, shapes, symmetry, etc. Tech talk, 3D printing lingo, and electronic workings were a breeze when they applied them right away. Girls learned that 3D printing is used is a variety of careers including biology, surgery, architecture, design, fashion, and gaming.

3D Printing Academy for Girls provided a foundation for participants’ own 3D printing entrepreneurial development by introducing them to online seller and freelance markets for their 3D printed products and skills including Shapeways, Sculpteo, and i.materialise. They learned how to price products and services, determine profit, role-played a client-3D modeler relationship to create an invention, and design functional products that relate to a consumer’s daily life. They used such sources of inspiration to create 3D models as Thingiverse, Made In Kigali, and real-time creations of Rio 2016 Olympics pendants, iphone case/stand, game pieces, names, maps, necklaces, bracelets, balls, train tracks, masks, small dolls, and created skins for an Ozobot.

Women in technology and engineering speakers included

  • Mary Fugier, Director of Training from McNeel & Associates, who, from Seattle, modeled the use of Rhino software in creating 3D printed Rio 2016 Olympics pendant and rings.
  • Erica Nwankwo, Design Education Evangelist from Autodesk, who, from Boston, created 3D models using Fusion 360.
  • Alison Seward, New Product Introduction Leader at GE Appliances in Louisville, spoke in person and was of great interest to the girls on innovation, being a woman in technology, and the importance of a diverse workforce.

    Watch Alison speak about why partnerships, like those of GE with YTF’s 3D Printing Academy for Girls are important.

  • Tanya Sallee, IT Leader at HP, spoke in person on the importance of being a continuous learner and trying as best possible to be diligent, confident, and tenacious.
  • Sasha Ndolovo, event planner from Kentucky Center for African American Heritage, spoke about growing up in South Africa and being told often by her teachers that because she was a girl she should pursue arts because she will never be good enough for math or science. She knows today that she was always good in math and if she had to do it again, she wouldn’t let the cultural stereotypes get to her.

Businesses are seeking female engineers and inventors to tackle its toughest challenges and to solve problems of today and for tomorrow. There are “exceptionally few engineers” who know how to create the data needed to run 3D designs. 3D printing is a vanguard, threshold opportunity for girls. The 3D printing industry is estimated to grow from $3.1B in 2013 to $30B in 2022.


Join Us!

YTF greatly appreciates its partners, and has seen time and again how girls are inspired to seek careers in technology and engineering because of the real-world interaction with real-life engineers, innovators, and techies. Employee volunteers provide a point-of-hope in the lives of the many girls YTF serves—seeing that, they too, can attain education, innovative training, and careers in technology and engineering fields.

Corporate, business, and community volunteers make a difference. Knowing a woman in a technology or engineering career is more likely to keep girls interested and engaged in science, technology, and math classes through their secondary school years. They are more likely to choose STEM fields themselves.

Together, we are inspiring the next generation of technology and engineering leaders who bring innovative answers to the problems of today and tomorrow. Please join us by volunteering or donating to ensure more girls are served in more low-income communities throughout the United States.



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