Think of a problem we are facing in our community for the world at large… Now create a solution. 

This was a challenge posed to 130 middle school girls at the fifth annual Launch(ed) Women in Technology Conference, recently held at Hub & Spoke. The young women delivered. “There were some real Shark Tank-level ideas that came out of this presentation,” says Alicia Thomas, whose PR firm, Sease Gerig & Associates, worked with Indiana University to plan the widely-anticipated event. 

This is exactly what Launch(ed) Women in Technology does: recognize a problem – in this case, overwhelming underrepresentation of women in STEAM education and careers – and create solutions. The conference, hosted by Indiana University President Pamela Whitten (the first woman to serve as IU president), “offers opportunities for girls to learn, explore and interact with new innovation, tech products and STEAM professionals, and sets them on an exciting path to contribute to these fields in the future.” 

And, says Thomas, based on the thinking, creativity, and innovation girls demonstrated at the event, there is great hope for that future. 

Yes, You Can 

Launch(ed) Women in Technology is dedicated –  indeed, driven – to inspire middle school girls to pursue their interest in STEAM. Thomas, vice president of Sease Gerig, says, “There is such a gender gap in the STEAM fields. We want to help bridge that gap and encourage young women who may be one of twelve in their robotics class and who feel intimidated. We want to let them know: there is space for you. You belong.” 

Attendees had the opportunity to explore hands-on demonstrations from a variety of partners, from flight simulation with LIFT Academy, robotics with the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana, tech tools with MILL Makerspace, and a 15,000 square-foot Maker’s Playground with Hub & Spoke 

But sometimes a spark is ignited with the humblest of kindling: Thomas says that the conference, among other aspects, “gives girls the opportunity to hit a nail with a hammer. A lot of them have never had a chance to do that. It’s very simple at times, but the exposure is key. It’s amazing to see them engage, to see the energy and the fun they have with hands-on demonstrations. “ 

She’s Like Me 

Another key aspect of engaging young women in STEAM is showing them people who look like them, girls and women who are taking on this world – and owning it. This year, Noblesville High School sophomore, Girl Scouts of Central Indiana Gold Award recipient, and past Launch(ed) attendee Lina Hamashuk came back to the conference to share her knowledge and know-how.  

One of my favorite memories with my Girl Scout troop is when we demonstrated robotics at the Launch(ed) Women in Technology conference. It was fun and exciting to share the robotics with other girls my age. It’s important to me to encourage other girls to explore STEAM because there are so many opportunities out there. The first step is to show how fun it can really be. 

What’s next for Miss Hamashuk? We can’t wait to find out! But for the girls who are attending for the first time, the spark of inspiration, that thought of she is like me, can be enough to fuel their hunger to pursue STEAM. 

Thomas says, “We want to make it as relevant as possible” – and let parents know that these fields are wide open for women. “We want parents to know, if you’re an advocate for your child, this is a route they can take. There are resources in the community to help.” 

This is crucial in turning the tide and engaging girls in STEAM. Research shows that negative stereotypes (e.g. girls just aren’t as good at science and math) measurably lowers girls’ test performance in these subjects, as well as their aspirations to pursue careers in these fields. But when influential people – parents, teachers, community leaders, peer leaders like Lina Hamashuk, etc. –  tell students that they are equally capable, disparities in scores… disappear.  

Challenge Accepted  

The Design Making Challenge is a highlight of the Launch(ed) Women in Technology Conference. The young women break into groups and are mentored and guided by an adult through a brainstorming process. Their task: consider a problem that we are facing in our community or world and develop a product that can help solve it. The materials are simple – cardboard, yarn, glue, etc. – but the ideas are anything but.  

In just an hour, the girls developed “Shark Tank-level ideas,” as Thomas said. One group created an idea for a solar-powered submarine that patrols the bottom of lakes and collects trash that so negatively impacts the ecosystem.  

Another took travel woes and turned them into opportunity. Flying with children is… not fun. For anyone. Their idea was to build a plane that features two levels. One one, adults can relax and enjoy their flight, while on the other, kids have fun playing – and splashing around in the pool. Give the girls a few years; we’ll be first in line for tickets! 

Thomas says, “There is no wrong answer. That’s the beauty.” The challenge “allows the students a safe space to be creative and work with their friends. It’s wonderful to use that part of the brain to make, create, and think through some of the issues that matter to them.” 

Full STEAM Ahead 

“This was a record-breaking year for us,” Thomas explains. With 130 attendees and participation from teachers with Hamilton Southeast, Pike and Shelby Counties, and Lawrence Township, the appeal of Launch(ed) Women in Technology is statewide. 

Partners like LIFT Academy, the Girl Scouts, and SMC Corporation work with Sease Gerig and IU to make these events a success, coming back year after year to lend their expertise, experience, and excitement in the world of STEAM. Thomas says that they have created strong relationships and partnerships. “That’s the great thing about our community in general; we lift other people up to succeed.” 

Hub & Spoke proved a perfect venue for the event. “We had a lot of remarks about how beautiful the space is. It is one of the newer features in Fishers, and a lot of people had never been there. It was great to introduce this resource to the community.” The girls toured the Maker Playground, exploring tech and tools, such as laser cutters, 3D printers, CNC routers, and a fully equipped metal shop and community workshop. 

As Thomas says, “Getting girls engaged in STEAM is not the issue. How do you maintain their excitement? Inform them of resources available to them? Help them continue on this path after middle school?” 

Launch(ed) Women in Technology is one way to expose girls to STEAM and to the possibilities it can hold for their futures – while keeping the spark ignited. 

Hub & Spoke is proud to have played a part in this vital event, and we can all look forward to a promising future shaped by these STEAM-savvy young women. To learn more about the Maker Playground, contact our team.