5 Questions with Māk, 2016 Big Ideas Winners

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By April You


UC Berkeley undergraduates Ankita Joshi, Aubrey Larson and Michelle Nie met in a social entrepreneurship class at the Haas School of Business. Connecting over a common passion for economic empowerment as a solution to poverty, they decided to develop a project that would promote financial inclusion within the STEM field. With resources and support from the Big Ideas team, they won 1st place in the financial inclusion category of the 2015-16 contest.

Providing students with real world work experience is Māk’s ultimate goal, and Māk is focusing on providing the students with STEM skills and training that best fit their needs. Māk is currently fundraising through Berkeley Crowdfunding with a $5,000 goal in order to build a new makerspace for youth near Oakland Technical High School.

We recently chatted with Michele and Ankita from Māk about their team’s experiences before, during, and after the Big Ideas contest.

1. What does “MAk” mean?  Is there any special meaning behind it?

Māk is “make” spelled phonetically. We wanted to name the organization “make” to demonstrate our theme of making design, making things, and making impact!

2. What inspired you to create this project? How did you and your team get started?

When Ankita was working as a researcher at the Berkeley Space Emergent Technologies Lab, she designed robot parts for NASA’s Tensegrity Spine Robot. While conducting 3D modeling, she realized that 3D design would be an ideal STEM skill for high school students. Rigorous math and science skills are not needed beforehand, and students can learn as they participate in design work.

As we did more research on STEM initiatives in both Berkeley and Oakland, we learned that there were no hardware and 3D design programs because resources were expensive. We became even more keen on working with low-income high school students when we found that Berkeley was among the top cities in the nation with the highest education achievement gap based on income and racial backgrounds.

After our needs assessment, we came up with the model of Māk, where high school students are trained in 3D design skills by UC Berkeley students. Later they work on hands-on projects with companies or research labs so that they can see the scope of 3D design in infrastructure, hardware and architecture design. Hopefully this will get them inspired to pursue careers in STEM!

3. What role did Big Ideas play in your team’s development?

Big Ideas was instrumental in connecting us to funding and resources. We had first heard of Big Ideas through 100 Strong, a past Big Ideas winner. We thought it would be the perfect way to gain connections and seed funding for Māk. We applied with only the idea of starting a 3D printing training program, and the Big Ideas team helped us refine our idea and hone in on our social impact. The most valuable resources they provided were advising hours with the Big Ideas team. All of the team members were able to get to know our project thoroughly and to provide multidimensional feedback on how to improve our idea.

Big Ideas also connected us to two amazing mentors. The first mentor was an entrepreneur who helped us understand the 3D printing market better. Our second mentor was Jacie Jones, a former social impact consultant at the Blum Center. She helped us to refine our program to maximize social impact and sustainability. Jacie is now one of our board members and has been a tremendously valuable resource and supporter for Māk!

Through Big Ideas, we were able to secure seed money for our pilot program. Beyond that, Big Ideas has also connected us to Berkeley Crowdfunding.  We are currently running a crowdfunding campaign for October 2016.

4. What are your biggest accomplishments so far?

Our proudest moment was winning Big Ideas. We all had put in countless hours talking to the Big Ideas team and industry experts, pitching our ideas to potential partners, and refining our written proposals. When we heard that we had won first place, it felt like everything we invested into Māk had finally paid off.

A close second would be securing our partnership with Oakland Tech. We had gotten in contact with Alicia Arnold, Co-Director of Oakland Tech’s Fashion, Arts, and Design Academy, through a former 100 Strong team member. Our mission to deliver STEM training to urban youth resonated with Alicia, who had witnessed firsthand the education gap for students in under resourced areas. Our partnership was born, and now we are teaching all 10 of her Advanced Arts students. It has been an amazing experience. All students are so willing to learn, and the Oakland Tech folks have been very supportive.

5. What are your goals?

Our goal now is to raise $5,000 through our crowdfunding campaign to build a new makerspace near Oakland Tech. It is important for our students to be able to see the impact of their designs by allowing them to 3D print their creations. Our vision is to build a public space and install state-of-the-art computers, Autodesk software, 3D printers, and laser cutters. We hope to open it up to all OUSD students to encourage them to express their creativity while learning art-infused STEM skills (otherwise known as Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math or STEAM).

Our next goal is to find a partner who can house our makerspace. There has been a lot of interest in community, but we are looking for someone deeply aligned with our mission.

And of course, our ultimate goal is to see our students pursue higher education and careers in STEAM. We are doing everything we can to provide them with funding and training to make this dream a reality.

The current 2016-2017 Big Ideas contest deadline for the pre-proposal is due on November 16, 2016. For more information, please visit the Big Ideas website or email the Big Ideas team to set up an advising appointment!

For more information on Māk’s crowdfunding campaign, please visit their funding portal. Their campaign goes through October 31, 2016.