Inventors Making Good at DIY Girls– by SJSU Alumna Sylvia Aguinaga

DIY Girls have a Go Fund Me campaign active right now for their travel expenses to MIT for Eureka Fest. Please take a moment to read this article on the important ways girls are using technology and innovation and consider making a donation to fund their dreams. Thanks so much!

At DIY Girls, I work as the Director of Curriculum and Program Manager for several initiatives. We empower girls through creative application of technology, engineering, and design.

One of my favorite units is our Making for Good series in which 4th grade girls brainstorm a community problem and think how STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) can be used as a solution. Our girls become inventors. They are given the space to design whatever they want. They engage in the creative process and complete the unit with a working prototype of their invention.

When the girls are initially presented with this prompt, I sense a lot of hesitation. I wonder how many times, if any, they were given this opportunity in the past. This hesitation is replaced with bright eyes and energized discussion as we move through the design thinking process, and most importantly, emphasize the criticality of using technology to improve ourselves and our communities.

What excites a 4th grade girl about this unit is the possibility of creating something new & something that can help. The same can be said about our high school girls. However, at this stage, girls feel an increased sense of responsibility and dedication to the cause.

Last August, 12 11th and 12th grade DIY Girls were awarded a grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program for an invention that addresses a real-world problem in their community. Our DIY Girls InvenTeam has designed a portable tent made of insulating, durable, and waterproof material with integrated solar powered sensors and germicidal lighting. All electrical components will be housed in weatherproof sleeves and in the seams of the backpack. Certain specifications of the invention will become clearer as we continue to develop relationships with service providers in homeless shelters and refugee camps. This invention is made to benefit displaced people: homeless, refugees, or immigrants, and would be useful in any place where people are without a permanent home, whether it may be on Skid Row in Los Angeles or across the world in refugee camps of Greece.

“Whenever I thought about the social issues that plagued the U.S and how much I wanted to resolve them,” says Aracely Chavez, our team’s head of Press Relations, “I always thought of myself accomplishing it as an adult. As adolescents, we never thought we could take action to solve the issues we were passionate about.”

“I come from a low-income family. It can be us, too. For me, it was kind of scary just to think that there can come a day when your parents won’t have anything and you will be homeless. That’s what pushed us forward. That’s what motivated us. Do it as if it were for you,” said one InvenTeam member.

As their first prototype nears completion, I gathered the team to talk about their experience thus far.

“This process has helped us think outside of the box. We’ve grown to think like engineers! When something is broken, we ask, “How can we fix this?””

Girls spoke of their challenges…
“Failing was hard. When you’re doing research you don’t feel like you’re moving forward. It’s hard to take the failure because you feel like you’re letting your team down. We’re all a team. So, if one bears the burden, we all do.”

“When we first got the material, our biggest struggle was measuring it and actually sewing it. Because we’ve never sewn before. This was a brand new experience.”

…and their proudest moment.
“We’re proud of seeing it come together…and the code works!”

They successfully completed their Mid Grant Technical Review, where an audience gathered to provide encouragement and feedback to the girls as they enter the next stage of product development. The InvenTeam’s next step is to reflect on the feedback they have received from community members and develop their second prototype. In June, the DIY Girls InvenTeam will travel to MIT for EurekaFest in June 2017 to present their work.

“We’re hoping to get some investors at EurekaFest. We want to go into production with our tent so that people can actually use it. That’s the point.”

I wrapped up our conversation by asking the InvenTeam for advice to give our 4th graders.

“Start looking into a bit of coding and anything that interests you just so you can get a taste.”

“Expose yourself to different things early so once you figure out what you like, you have the skill sets.”

“Don’t let anyone make you feel less than what you are.”

“Nothing has the power to make you feel like something you’re not.”

In this moment, I thought of myself as a 4th grader, as a 12th grader, and now, as an adult.  I realized that these pieces of advice may mean something different at each stage of our lives however, really do stick with you.

And this is why we do the work we do. Showing girls the importance of having a strong sense of self and taking advantage of opportunities that build skills can have a powerful impact on the world we live in.


Sylvia Aguiñaga is the Director of Curriculum for DIY Girls and 9 Dots, two LA-based STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education non-profits. Her mission is to empower girls to use technology for creative expression. Her curriculum includes: computer programming in Processing & p5.js, virtual reality, product design, synthesizer building, renewable energy, creative electronics.

Sylvia is also part of artist collective, Y_NIS. Y_NIS creates interactive installations in public spaces that focus on social, political, environmental, and emotional climates. Y_NIS works to create a community of women and girls who want to use art and technology to design an environment that is driven by the problems they want to solve.