By Paloma Garcia-Lopez
Mariah Noelle Villarreal is the kind of role model we were looking for when we created Maker Corps. In 7th grade, Mariah tried to make her own computer. She locked herself up in her room for hours on end, teaching herself to program and how to take a computer apart. Her parents watched silently in disbelief but didn’t ask too many questions about what their 12 year old was up to because frankly, they hadn’t yet realized the value of creating a website or building a computer.
Building a computer was a strange concept for a little girl in San Antonio, especially among her friends who responded, “Computers are for boys!” Mariah’s biggest regret is that she shoved the dream aside and proceeded to get the worst grades of her school career in ninth and tenth grade. “I just wasn’t interested in how things were being taught. I was totally bored in school and didn’t think my interests mattered. I wish I had been more confident in myself and in what I really wanted to be doing which was making.”
Mariah stumbled upon the power of the maker movement while on a study abroad trip in Uruguay. She was researching the impact of the “One Laptop per Child” campaign and was astonished how quickly children could pick up on programs like Scratch. She recalls a child sharing with her his scientific thought process: he identified a “bug” in the program and described step by step how to fix it. Upon returning to the states her senior year she made a shift in her career path. Instead of a career in international education policy, she would immerse herself in education technology & policy in America.
That is when she met Mark Barnett, Director of a makerspace and mobile “Geek Bus” in San Antonio. He told her about a position that married her career direction and her personal love of making: Maker Corps. Mariah worked with kids for ten weeks, introducing them to all of the technology, materials, and tools she could only dream of engaging with as a middle school student. “If I had role model makers exposing me to these amazing tools as a child, I would have loved school. I see the light go on inside the minds of my students. One little girl told me, ‘I just made my imagination real…’’’ Mariah introduced her to CAD and she was able to “make real” what was in her mind.
Mariah has not only changed the life trajectory of many children in San Antonio, she is now speaking at national conferences. At the recent FabLearn conference at Stanford, Mariah co-presented “Empathy in the Design Thinking Process using MaKey MaKeys as an interface for game controllers for students with hand impairments” with Mark Barnett’s team. She was thrilled to learn that Jay Silver, Inventor and co-creator of Makey Makey, joined Maker Ed’s national board this month. Mariah is the reason we are greatly expanding the national footprint of Maker Ed’s programs in 2014. We believe every child is born a maker and deserves to experience education building real things and making their imagination real.
Note: Mariah is currently serving in the AmeriCorps VISTA program, working with FIRST Robotics. Catch Mariah LIVE along with other makers on the White house “We The Geeks” Hangout, rescheduled for this Friday, November 15 at 1PM ET, 10:00 AM PST. We are thrilled by all of the ways that our Maker Corps Mentors continue to give to education, their communities, and the maker movement.