Marie Millan has always been connected. As an infant, her father’s job establishing cell phone networks led to her living in France, Belgium, China, the Philippines, Canada, and finally California, all before the age of eight.
The physical momentum that had her globe-trotting in Pampers must have had an impact on her childhood dreams. It was her exposure to the poverty and struggles of those all over the world that led to her realizing that innovation could be used to alleviate suffering. Not to mention that troubleshooting with toys was the sort of pastime she was drawn to. Initially she became fascinated with NASA and fantasized about becoming an astronaut.
“I would visit the Houston Space Station and my mom could hardly keep track of me since I would go gallivanting off to sit in the cockpits and do the training to prove that I could be an astronaut. I had all the different aircrafts and procedures memorized and wanted to experience zero gravity so that I could drink little balls of orange juice while floating around,” Marie recalls. “That dream though soon changed to me wanting to design and build cars.”
As a student in University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Marie grapples with collaborating on group projects like building a walking/crawling robot, and has to be quick-witted and resourceful when calibrations and materials need to be swapped out while working in a group.
“In the end, it’s a tug-of-war kind of game, where you pull a little and others pull back, and the trick is to find a way to equate the tugs so that there’s a balance,” she says. Her ability to maneuver machines and personalities equally deftly is part of what makes her work shine.
Marie does more than planning projects and concocting walking robots. She has become the Engagement Director in MakerGirl, a nonprofit organization that seeks to inspire young girls to be involved in STEM projects and creative processes. Her task is to ensure that the curriculum highlights the benefits of STEM, while also remaining dynamic and engaging.
“It’s finding that middle ground where the girls know they are learning things such as supply and demand, design, and spatial concepts, while having fun, so much so that they don’t mind learning things that they might not regularly be so thrilled about,” she says.
Her father’s influence has made her more than a little sympathetic with those girls who might be coming to terms with being just as overjoyed by making machines as they are about making dresses. “My father told me I could do anything as long as I had the passion and determination to make it happen. He was the one who would tell me that my scrapes and bruises really weren’t that bad and that it was better to just laugh them off. That kind of mentality has helped me through some rough patches, especially being a woman in engineering and has pushed me to do things I didn’t think I would have been able to,” Marie confesses.
As for her own advice to those girls growing up in the age of apparatuses?
“Don’t be afraid to go after and be the change you want to be,” Marie says. “Be all of who you are: engineer, hacker, inventor, artist, designer, storyteller, leader, teacher. All of those qualities together are what make you unique and empowers you to be the one that implements change. Overall, never forget that you can do anything you can dream up.”
For her work in mechanical engineering and her work with MakerGirl, we think Marie Millan is a very Cool Girl!