When Virginia Woolf wrote ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’ she was commenting on women’s access to education. At the time, women were scarce allowed into universities or academic libraries, there was no room in which to learn freely and become anything they desired. Though the world has changed a little since 1929, equality of the sexes, especially within the engineering and technology industries, is a subject that still warrants discussion. This is why it is so important that schools are taking the initiative to encourage exploration of the STEAM spectrum (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) in order to broaden the opportunities offered to their students.

The Phyllis M. Taylor STEAM Maker Lab stocked with MakerBots at Mount Carmel Academy, New Orleans. Photo via: mcacubs.com

The Phyllis M. Taylor STEAM Maker Lab stocked with MakerBots at Mount Carmel Academy, New Orleans. Photo via: mcacubs.com

New opportunities for New Orleans high-school girls 

Mount Carmel Academy, an all-girls Catholic high-school in New Orleans, has opened a dedicated Maker Lab for its pupils with funding from the late Patrick F. Taylor Foundation, now managed by his widow Phyllis M. Taylor.

Phyllis Taylor is an inspiring advocate of engineering in her ascension to in-house counsel for oil and gas industrialist John W. Mecom Sr, and becoming president of the Taylor Energy company after her husband’s death. In opening the eponymous Phyllis M. Taylor Maker Lab, she was presented with 3D printed gifts from the pupils of Carmel Academy to show their gratitude for her support.

A 3D printed vase (left) and laser engraved plaque (right) presented to Phyllis M. Taylor and the Most Reverend Gregory Aymond, Archbishop of New Orleans at the opening of the new Maker Lab. Photo via: mcacubs.com

A 3D printed vase (left) and laser engraved plaque (right) presented to Phyllis M. Taylor and the Most Reverend Gregory Aymond, Archbishop of New Orleans at the opening of the new Maker Lab. Photo via: mcacubs.com

Developing STEAM education

The Maker Lab is supplied with 16 MakerBot Replicator 3D printers, and it is hoped that it will help the school receive accreditation from AdvancED – the world’s biggest not-for-profit organisation for improving the opportunities provided to children. The new Maker Lab is particularly pertinent considering AdvancED’s most recent study that finds the majority of schools aren’t implementing technology into the learning process, which is absolutely crucial to the technical future the world is heading towards.

Carmel are also keen to incorporate religious studies into the 3D printing process, a subject not often explored in the medium, but representative of the school’s commitment to be inclusive in their studies.

From students of Carmel it’s clear that the Maker Lab has already managed to have an impact, as one pupil Sarah Liang comments, ‘I am looking into careers in engineering, my dad is a civic engineer and I find that very interesting…he uses 3D printers, too’.

The Archbishop of New Orleans examines a 3D printed gift from Carmel students. Photo via: mcacubs.com

The Archbishop of New Orleans examines a 3D printed gift from Carmel students. Photo via: mcacubs.com

The world is taking note

This Maker Lab is by no means an isolated occurrence. In the UK, BAE Systems have opened a specialist engineering academy for school leavers. In Australia, the government are offering between ten and fifty thousand AUD grants to programs adhering to a Digital Technologies curriculum. And MakerBot have designed a course in 3D printing for teachers in India.

The fatal flaw in any discussion of gender equality is always the education and culture surrounding it. A collective commitment to STEAM education is effective not only for young women, but also men who are embarking on a future in the 4th Industrial revolution.

Virginia Woolf, I imagine, is probably dancing in her grave.

Featured image shows a student holding a laser engraved plaque to commemorate the opening of the Phyllis M. Taylor Maker Lab. Photo via: mcacubs.com

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