Photo of several girls around a table working on some electronics.

Girls in the workshop working together to build their Raspberry Pi cameras. (Courtesy of Jon Barron, MIT Lincoln Laboratory.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Kristen Railey is on a mission. She wants to help more girls become engineers and appreciate the wonders of engineering. But rather than simply joining the chorus lamenting that women are underrepresented in STEM fields, Railey is actually doing something about it. She’s created Girls Who Build.

Girls Who Build is a workshop in which high-school girls learn about engineering through things they use every day and then apply that knowledge to create new things on their own—all in a single day. It’s an exciting and fun experience for female students who may have very little exposure to engineering and who may not know any real engineers.

The workshop offers the opportunity for girls to get introduced to a variety of fields quickly: materials science, mechanical engineering, computer programming, electrical engineering. Railey believes that a little familiarity with engineering concepts can foster both confidence and curiosity. The girls themselves see that working collaboratively on projects can lead to tangible accomplishments. And they get to know some successful and enthusiastic female engineers.

Open Sharing, Take 2

An MIT graduate who works on oceanic robots at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Railey is also a believer in open sharing. Last year she published Girls Who Build: Make Your Own Wearables Workshop, an OCW site that shows how girls make jewelry with a 3-D printer, laser-cut materials to assemble a purse, and program LEDs so they light up on shoes they wear.

Now OCW has published a second Railey workshop, Girls Who Build Cameras. The OCW site has a rich array of resources, notably video lectures on digital cameras, the applications of camera technology, and image processing by coding Instagram-like filters. The site also has lecture slides, an image gallery of workshop activities, instructions for those activities, and supporting files. There are also video presentations by women from the MIT Women’s Technology Program and the Society of Women Engineers.

Inspiring Role Models

The guest lecturers are young, mostly female engineers doing exciting work in their careers, such as medical imaging, satellite and space imaging, and sophisticated image processing.  They show that the same technology that we all have at our fingertips in our cell phone cameras has amazingly broad applications, from revealing the ins and outs of hazardous places to sharpening the murky photos of a shipwreck.

Railey also includes on the OCW site some handy resources for instructors who want to host their own workshops, such as a video of the opening minutes of Cameras and a promotional video explaining the Girls Who Build concept.

Railey has definitely found a successful way to introduce engineering and coding to high school girls, some of whom may never have considered these fields before. By using topics of interest like wearables and Instagram, Girls Who Build demonstrates how much fun learning and teaching coding, engineering, and science can be.