SparkSC hosts first all-woman makeathon

Athena Lim | Daily Trojan

Approximately 50 female USC students passionate about engineering, coding, design and architecture gathered at the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism for the University’s first all-women makeathon this weekend.

SparkSC and the Annenberg Innovation Lab collaborated to host the event, “Break to Make,” in an effort to cultivate the talents of women in engineering at USC. The weekend consisted of brainstorming, building, talks from industry professionals, workshops and competitions.

At the makeathon, students brainstormed and built a project based on a given challenge over a 24-hour period. Toward the end, they pitched their ideas to industry professionals and other participants.

Event committee lead Mimi Tran Zambetti, a sophomore majoring in arts, technology and the business of innovation, initially helped create this event because of her experiences prior to attending USC. In high school, Zambetti attended an all-girls school and competed on the robotics team, which fostered her interest in maker culture and the creation of tangible objects through technology. Zambetti said she hoped to continue her passion in making when she moved to college.

“Coming here to USC, to a very male-dominated entrepreneur space, it was really important for me to figure out a way to break ground for women to connect in personal settings and more maker- and hardware-orientated stuff,” Zambetti said. “This is a space where women can come in to learn new skills like 3-D printing and to work with each other on a project, all within two days.”

At this makeathon, students had the opportunity to attend hands-on workshops with 3-D design and 3-D printing tools. They also were able to use a tool called Arduino, a microcontroller used to develop projects such as smart houses, Zambetti said. Students also used five printers from MakerBot and UltiMaker to practice prototyping and creating a tangible object within a short amount of time.

The event included guest speakers like Sheila Tejada, a USC professor of computer science.

“She’s really passionate about women in making and getting younger girls in high school involved in making small projects and being introduced into the field early on,” Zambetti said. “It’s really gratifying to me that people give up time that they’d spend studying for exams or hanging out with friends to come for a really big time commitment to essentially build a project.”

Athena Lim | Daily Trojan

To kick off the building component, students were given a project brief in four different categories. One category focused on solving problems in the community in regards to basic human needs. While the education category encouraged students to brainstorm how to make the classroom experience more engaging, the third category, communications, was created in partnership with the Annenberg Innovation Lab to explore the future of media and technological advancements. The final category was an open design challenge for participants interested in making industrial designs beyond the other three categories.

Final projects included everything from programmed bugs that could locate natural disaster survivors to a food pantry sensor.

“Our team created a project that is meant to be put in a pantry,” said Maegan Chew, a freshman majoring in computer engineering and computer science. “It senses when the pantry is out of food items and then updates a web page afterwards. We created this project because we wanted to make something simple and helpful with the available technology that we had.”

Once the teams were done brainstorming and building, the projects were then pitched to three judges: Kate McAndrew from Bolt, Noramay Cadena from Make in LA and Tracy Van Houten from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The projects were scored based on aesthetics, functionality, efficiency and clarity in addressing the challenge.

“From the event, I learned to value others’ ideas,” said Rabia Ghulam-Ali, a freshman majoring in computer science. “I also understood that collaboration is essential if one wants to be successful in engineering. I personally enjoyed the 3-D printing workshop because I got to use Fusion360, which is a CAD program that allows you to create solid objects.”

Zambetti hopes that the women who participated in the makeathon got a deeper understanding of the challenges of the making process. Through this experience, she also hopes that the women feel more encouraged to get involved in the STEM community to help cultivate brighter futures for other aspiring female engineers.