Slaying the Future, One Maker at a Time

A guest post from Shimira Williams recounting the journey from the Beauty of STEM to Slaying the Future, and lessons learned building a more inclusive, community-based, inter-generational maker movement along the way.

I am Shimira Williams, creator of The Beauty of S.T.E.M., which is committed to creating an environment for young ladies to tinker and innovate the future of fashion and technology through an 8-week studio series to design and fabricate fashions culminating in a fashion show.

In 2014, during our summer planning session a youth enrolled announced she was not interested in the projects identified and wanted to work on “girlie” projects that related to fashion. I replied that’s fine, everything about a fashion is related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S.T.E.M.). First, I incorporate her wishes into the theme for the summer’s Lunch and Learn series, inviting people that worked in fashion or fashion-related careers. Then, my library offered us space to host a fashion show, and this was a real game changer. Since I’m not a fashionista, I called my bestie because she had even attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh for this career path.

When the Beauty of S.T.E.M.™ began, there was limited access to making opportunities for youth in the Homewood neighborhood. In our second year, we partnered with the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse to participate in City of Learning Pittsburgh. While it was a positive experience, we learned that families preferred one meeting location and it allowed us to store youth’s work in between sessions. As a for-profit organization each summer, I had to get creative about funding and partnerships to keep the program affordable for participants.

Keynote speaker Lesley Ware and her mother

Keynote speaker Lesley Ware and her mother

In the fall of 2017, I joined the Education Department at WQED. The team at WQED knew about The Beauty of S.T.E.M, but that was not why I was hired. When the Great Remake grant became available in 2018, we agreed “Slaying the Future with Lesley Ware” was an initiative that dovetailed with existing and pipelined projects in our department. The one-day conference was about introducing the next generation of makers to those leading the way locally and making an impression internationally.

Today, there are several makerspaces in Homewood, both for youth and adults. Youth can find programming at the Teenspace at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Homewood, the YMCA – Homewood-Brushton, The Oasis Project, or The Shop. And adults can access programming at 7800 Susquenna which includes the University of Pittsburgh’s Manufacturing Assistance Center (MAC), Thread International, BoXZY, and Bridgeway Capital’s Craft Business Accelerator.

A photo of Ms. Maureen who served as the Creative Director of The Beauty of S.T.E.M.

Ms. Maureen served as the Creative Director of The Beauty of S.T.E.M.

While the City of Pittsburgh has made strides, African-American women still are considered “unicorns” in the local maker movement. To make space for equitable access to the maker movement, I want to see family-friendly (inter-generational) maker initiatives lead by informal educators and teaching artists from the community. At the beginning of The Beauty of S.T.E.M., I thought it was about merely exposing children to entrepreneurial opportunities in the maker movement. What I witnessed was that youth and their caregivers have space and time to work together to create a tangible product that could generate income. In this space, we created a community, and it had a two-generation ripple effect. Caregivers were able to share stories about the community as well as demonstrate a method that we could not readily find on the Internet. Youth were empowered by teaching their caregiver about the new technologies. They were enabling each other to tap into their knowledge base, creativity, and hustle.

The next questions where could we house a family-friendly makerspace and how do we raise the initial three years of funding?

Published May 23, 2019

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