“For all three of us, our favorite childhood toys developed the kind of the thinking that we ultimately used in STEM subjects later on.”
By Alice Brooks, Bettina Chen & Jennifer Kessler (Founders, Maykah)
We all had favorite toys growing up. But did you ever think about how those toys influenced who you are today?
We are Alice, Bettina, and Jennifer. Between the three of us, we studied Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Math, and Cognitive Neuroscience at MIT, Caltech, University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford.
Across all of these STEM subjects at each of our institutions, there was a striking similarity: We were each one of only a handful of girls in our classes. And, as the years progressed and our classes got more advanced, the proportion of women continued to dwindle.
We wondered: Why were we only one of a few? Growing up, we were all fortunate to have wonderful parents who supported us to believe that every academic discipline was a viable option, and encouraged us through science fairs, math contests, and at-home experiments. But, we think there is more to the story.
All three of us loved Barbie, dolls, and stuffed animals growing up. We also love Lego, Lincoln Logs, Mastermind, and Chess. Alice grew up visiting her father’s robotics lab. From the time she was young, she had her own saw so that they could work side-by-side. In fact, she built her own doll with that saw. Bettina and her brother were childhood best friends. Their play was centered around building elaborate Lego creations for their imaginary characters – Black Robot, White Robot, and Gray Robot. Jen grew up playing Mastermind and Chess with her father. The two also constantly challenged each other with newly discovered math riddles and spent hours solving puzzles together.
For all three of us, our favorite childhood toys developed the kind of the thinking that we ultimately used in STEM subjects later on.
When, we looked around at girls’ toys today, we did not see the kinds of toys that inspired us when we were young. A few months ago, we started our company, Maykah, to fill that gap. We build toys to inspire the next generation of female technology innovators. Roominate is our first product, and it makes every girl an artist, engineer, architect, and visionary.
We have perfected our design by evolving through many iterations and testing our product with hundreds of 4-12 year old girls. We wanted Roominate to be fun! It was crucial to us that girls did not realize they were playing with an educational toy. After months of testing, we are thrilled by how much young girls love Roominate!
Roominate is a stackable, attachable, and customizable room-building kit, with a working circuit that a girl connects herself.
With Roominate’s modular pieces and universal joints, there are endless possibilities for design and construction.
A girl builds her own room, crafts her own furniture, connects her own circuits, and decorates the structure to finalize her vision. Then, she can stack rooms on top of each other or attach them side-by-side to build an ever-growing creation. Finally, she can take it apart and use the same pieces to design something completely different.
Knowing that our own childhood experiences were integral in attracting us to math and science as adults, we want to foster those types of experiences for young girls everywhere. We think that fun toys are the best way to do it.
The Maykah team is a part of StartX, the Stanford student startup accelerator.
This post was originally posted at Huffington Post.
About the guest blogger: Alice Brooks is a founder of Maykah. She grew up in the Boston area and graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2010 with a BS in Mechanical Engineering. Currently in her second year as a Master’s student at Stanford University, Alice is focused on Mechanical Engineering Design. She spent six months working at Nest Labs. In her spare time, she loves making anything from light fixtures to stuffed animals to strawberry shortcake.
About the guest blogger: Bettina Chen is a founder of Maykah. Bettina graduated from the California Institute of Technology in 2010 with a BS in Electrical Engineering. In March, she graduated from Stanford with her Master’s. She loves volunteering and working with kids, and is looking forward to getting kids as excited about engineering as she si! Bettina is a ultimate frisbee enthusiast and plays competitively on the Stanford club team. As a young girl, Bettina loved Legos and built hundreds of extravagant creations with her older brother.
About the guest blogger: Jennifer Kessler is a first year MBA student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Math, Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology. After college, she worked in NYC as a management consultant. She loves crossword puzzles, Settlers of Catan and hiking. Growing up, Jen loved solving math riddles with her dad and one of her earliest childhood memories is her grandfather teaching her how to do long division in her head.