Celebrating International Women’s Day with Women on a Mission

Maker News
Celebrating International Women’s Day with Women on a Mission

International Women’s Day has historically been a day to both recognize the contributions of women and to bring attention to different issues affecting women globally. In recent years, International Women’s Day has had themes that range from empowering rural women to promoting equality. This year’s theme is “Be Bold for Change,” so we reached out to a few mission-driven women who are using their skills and positions as makers to change the world.

Stephanie Santoso

Stephanie Santoso is an advocate for the maker community and STEAM education. During the Obama administration she was the Maker-in-Chief in the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. As part of her work there she looked for ways federal agencies could provide resources and support grassroots maker communities across the U. S. Today she continues advocating for the maker community as a founding board member of the Nation of Makers.

How did you become a maker?

As a kid, I always loved making things. Growing up in the 1980s, the public elementary school I went to participated in this competition called Invent America which was all about getting students to think about the ways they could come up with solutions to problems that they thought were important. My 6-year old self came up with an invention called the “Hang Everything,” which was my attempt to solve the challenge of wanting to hang lots of different things on just one hanger. The invention ended up looking like a tree trunk with many different branches, so you could hang things of different shapes and sizes. The thing I remember most about this project was how excited I was about going to the hardware store to find the materials we needed to make the prototype for the sketch that I had made. My dad helped me drill holes into the wood and I glued different sized wooden dowels into the holes — it was so satisfying! I even got to use sand paper for the very first time. I was hooked.

The other really seminal experience during my childhood was learning how to sew from my mom. She taught me how to thread the machine and the mechanics of how the pedal and other components of the machine worked together to create the stitches. I loved being able to make my own stuffed toys and dolls and later as I got older and still today, my own clothing. The last sewing project that my mom and I worked on together was my wedding dress last year.

The variety of things and ways that I make have broadened over the years. I started working with 3D printing and different kinds of hardware while I was living in upstate New York, hanging out at the Ithaca Generator and going to grad school at Cornell.

What were some of the projects you were involved in as Maker-in-Chief?

Oh wow — where do I begin! There were so many different kinds of things I worked on over the course of the 2 years I was working in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Obama administration. I helped to develop and launch President Obama’s Nation of Makers initiative, which was aimed at supporting the maker community and broadening access to the Maker Movement.

I helped plan the White House Maker Faire that President Obama hosted in 2014. When Michelle Obama hosted a Fashion and Education Workshop with high school and college students, I had the opportunity to curate a track on wearable technology. The workshop was aimed at showing students what a broad array of different directions you could take if you wanted to pursue a career in fashion and it was wonderful have the chance to show students that there are so many different possibilities when it comes to the intersection of fashion, technology, and things like hardware and e-textiles. In collaboration with the Smithsonian and Instructables, we also launched the 3D Printed Ornament Design Challenge in 2015, where we asked makers to submit 3D designs for ornaments that would be displayed in the East Wing of the White House during the holiday season.

The maker project I worked on that was most loved was probably Bo-bot and Sunny-bot though! These were larger than life figures of Sunny and Bo. In previous years, the figures of Sunny and Bo were stationery, but this particular year, we worked on creating a way for Bo and Sunny’s heads to move from side to side. This was a project that White House Floral Designer at the time, Laura Dowling approached us about. There were lots of amazing makers at the White House while I was there, so a team of us actually worked on prototyping, testing annd iterating different ways to make Bo-bot and Sunny-bot after work and on the weekends. I can tell you we burned out way more servo motors than we could have imagined and may have fried an Arduino or two!

The project ended up on the front page of the Washington Post, which was unexpected, but such a great way to show that making experiences can take place in all sorts of different settings, including at the White House.

What are you working on now?

I’ve been focusing on figuring out different ways to support makers who are working on creative solutions to problems in their own communities as well as tackling global challenges. Makers are making such incredible contributions to address issues in health, environmental sustainability, homelessness, the refugee crisis, and more. I want to help support these individuals and figure out ways that they can collaborate with aid, humanitarian, and other organizations and companies that have shared goals and could help them iterate on their projects and prototypes, test them and scale their use. I’ve been doing this in a number of different ways including through the work I’ve been doing at the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation and Infosys Foundation USA through the Infy Maker Awards.

I’m also a Founding Board Member of Nation of Makers, which is an independent, national non-profit organization that launched in November of 2016. The goal of Nation of Makers is to support the broad range of organizations which work with makers through activities such as empowering organizations to be able to share best practices and resources with one another, facilitating funding and non-monetary resource opportunities, and broadening access and increasing diversity within the Maker Movement.

What does your perspective as a woman add to your work?

This is a really great question. Even though makerspaces and other shared spaces are providing opportunities for individuals to engage in different kinds of making, I do still feel that these different kinds of making are still pretty gendered. I want us as a society to get to a place where little boys look at a sewing machine and think its just as normal for them to make something with the machine as it is for little girls to solder hardware. But as women and girls, I also don’t want us to shy away from certain kinds of making because they seem too “feminine.” Sometimes I worry that in the quest to broaden diversity in STEM we might privilege certain certain kinds of making over others and I try to always describe how making in its different forms can be equally empowering.

Who are some women who’ve influenced you and your work?

Definitely my mom, who is one of the most amazing makers I know. My family is from Indonesia and when she was in her early 20s, she had her own design studio, where she created handbags and purses made from traditional rattan. She figured out a way to dye the rattan a wide range of colors, which previously had been a really big challenge for any artisan working with rattan because its natural properties didn’t typically absorb pigment easily. I’ve been lucky enough to start and run an all-natural baked goods company with her and through this experience and through so many other experiences, she’s taught me to challenge the norms, have confidence in the ideas that I have even if others don’t and have an optimism about life that I think has been so critical to the way in which I try to live my life and experience the world.

Dava Newman

Dava Newman is a former Deputy Administrator of NASA and a Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering systems at MIT. Her work in aerospace biomedical engineering is advancing the field of space exploration. She is perhaps best known for her work on the Bio-Suit, an alternative to traditional gas pressurized space suits, which applies pressure through the tension in the suit’s textile weave.

How did you become a scientist and maker?

When searching for a technical major at the University of Notre Dame, I chose aerospace engineering to further my problem-solving skills and to compliment philosophy. How? Well, thanks to the Apollo program, which taught me to “dream big,” I thought exploration could be for me. Human spaceflight and exploration have been my passions and my career. I love to think about solutions and try to see things differently and ask, “what if we did it this way?,” and then design and build it.

What were some of the projects you were involved in at NASA?

As Deputy Administrator of NASA I was involved in helping lead the entire agency, all $19 + billion dollars including human exploration, space and earth science, aeronautics and technology. Working with Administrator Charlie Bolden, I was responsible for providing overall leadership, planning, and policy direction for NASA. I was also responsible for articulating the agency’s vision and representing NASA to the Executive Office of the President, Congress, heads of federal and other appropriate government agencies, international organizations, and external organizations and communities. Some highlights included articulating NASA’s Journey to Mars, developing an Innovation framework, and helping guide education and outreach. When it comes to partnerships, it was incredible to oversee the 800 international partnerships that NASA has with over 120 nations. I was also a big proponent and spokesperson for the public-private partnerships that NASA has with US companies including for commercial cargo and crew to the International Space Station. I thoroughly enjoyed serving in the Obama Administration and working with NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and the great NASA workforce the past two years.

What are you working on now?

I’ve returned to MIT as the Apollo Program Professor of Astronautics. I’m still working on my passions: exploration and getting people to Mars, the technology and innovation needed for our Journey to Mars, as well as using my knowledge and inventions to help people here on earth.

What does your perspective as a woman add to your work?

I think that I’m a reflective leader who tries to build consensus. I truly believe that we attain excellence through infinite diversity and infinite combinations. And I know that my next three life projects, namely, 1) exploration, 2) taking care of Spaceship Earth, and 3) actually sending students/learners in to outer space (LEO or the Moon) for a ‘semester in space’ will take excellence to achieve.

Who are some women who’ve influenced you and your work?

My grandmother Elve from Berkeley, CA and the mountains of Montana who was one of the wisest, calmest, equitable, and humble people I knew growing up. My mother and her sisters who were all teachers had a great influence on me to value education and service. Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, The Eurythmics, Laurie Anderson, Sade, Ella Fitzgerald to name just a few musicians who I have on my current playlist that inspire me, especially on long runs! In my engineering career, Millie Dresselhaus and Sheila Widnall are MIT senior colleagues who inspired me and served as role models. In what I like to call S-T-E-A-M-D here are a few of my heroes that I admire: Shirley Ann Jackson (Science); Megan Smith (Technology); aerospace engineers (Engineering) and others that I’ve highlighted in one of my NASA blogs; Georgia O’Keefe and Annie Leibovitz (visionary Artists); Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson (Mathematician). I hope everyone reads Margot Lee Shetterly’s amazing book Hidden Figures and also sees the movie. Margot another wonderful inspiration. And mentioning Katherine, also makes me think of Catherine ‘Cady’ Coleman, former astronaut and superwoman (scientist)! ‘D’ is design and I’m going to give a shout out to Ray Eames and Zaha Hadid. I believe that we’re all better working together to learn from one another and to take the best of each. Plus, it’s more fun!

Dara Dotz

Dara Dotz is cofounder of the nonprofit Field Ready, an organization which provides on-the-ground maker expertise for humanitarian relief efforts. This means connecting engineers with communities that could use their expertise, developing ways to reuse easy-to-find materials into tools for search and rescue, and employing rapid prototyping to sidestep supply chain issues.

How did you become a maker?

When I was a kid I really enjoyed doing projects like sculpting clay or woodworking with my father. When I discovered industrial design as an option in college it completely revolutionized my life. The best part was that I was able to find tangible ways to solve complicated problems and support people in need. Many years later I discovered TechShop in San Francisco, which is where I was really first introduced and actually used digital fabrication tools such as CNC machines and 3D printers. The funny thing is that after all that time I spent in university and makerspaces, I wasn’t interested in this type of technology or even recognized its validity until I saw a way in which it could be used to directly address challenges in Haiti.

Why did you found Field Ready and what did it take to set up the organization?

Field Ready was founded in response to the extreme supply chain challenges my cofounder Eric [James] and I experienced consistently throughout our work in the field. I believe the first and foremost important thing about setting up an organization is first finding the right team. I cannot stress the importance of finding amazing people with complementary skill sets enough. Make sure that you enjoy spending a significant amount of time with them. I was fortunate enough to find an amazing co-founder and tremendously capable team. Find people you admire, respect, and trust 100%. In the extreme work we do it’s essential to cover each others blind spots. I can honestly say I wouldn’t be anywhere without them.

What projects are you working on now?

We are currently working on several projects around the world. Many of which support doctors and entrepreneurs through engineering and design. At this moment I am most excited about our “rescue tech.” The first of a series of our products being concrete lifters made from upcycling parts. Parts you can find anywhere in the world like old car mats to prevent puncture of the airbags. This is a big deal because when this project is complete, it will not only be able to be made in many parts of the world, but will be used in even more. This product is used to enable first responders to pull survivors from collapsed buildings when every last second is critical.

A Field Ready air bag prototype that will help first responders rescue survivors from collapsed buildings.

What does your perspective as a woman add to your work?

I don’t really know how to answer this question. We have a very balanced team at Field Ready and everyone’s perspective is equally valuable in what we do.

Who are some women who’ve influenced you and your work?

My badass friend Maeve McGoldrick had a huge influence on me. She was working as a nurse out in Haiti when I was there. Her work was incredible even through her lack of medical supplies. When she put her life in danger due to a lack of access to simple medical disposables — this is what inspired me to use additive manufacturing and co-found Field Ready. It was her struggle that first inspired me to use a 3D printer in the field.

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A typical day for Lisa includes: getting up to see the sunrise, bicycling, interning at Make:, reading and writing short stories, and listening to audiobooks and podcasts for hours while working on projects or chores.

View more articles by Lisa Martin


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