When Alice Brooks was a little girl, she asked her father for a Barbie doll for Christmas. Instead, she got a saw. The message was clear: Give a girl a Barbie and she will play with it for a few hours; give her a tool with which she can make her own toys and she will play with it for the rest of her life.
Not surprisingly, Brooks became an engineer. She earned her bachelor's in mechanical engineering at MIT and then went on to earn a master's at Stanford. That's where she met Bettina Chen, a fellow student studying for her master's in electrical engineering. The two women became friends and lamented about the lack of women in their chosen fields, both at Stanford and beyond. In fact, only 15 percent of women pursue STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — degrees in college. They thought about what they could do to change that. And that's when Brooks remembered the Barbie doll.
Brooks and Chen decided to make toys for young girls that would inspire them to get involved in STEM fields. The result is Roominate — a line of toys that young kids can use to get creative with construction and circuitry. All of the Roominate toys include pieces that can be used to build something, such as a house or a helicopter, as well as the circuitry that can be used to wire lights, propellers or fans or even operate elevators.
The idea behind each Roominate set — whether it's the helicopter or the deluxe estate — is to help young girls get comfortable with building, wiring and circuits so that these concepts will be more familiar to them as they continue on in school. "Those are things that traditionally have been more geared towards boys and their toys," Brooks said in an interview with The Age. The toys are designed for 6- and 7-year-olds — just the right age to get young girls interested in subjects that they have not yet been convinced to abandon.
The Roominate toy line is so far off to a good start. An appearance on "Shark Tank" last fall netted the company an investment from business man Mark Cuban as well as QVC's Lori Grenier. But will the toys stand up to the scrutiny of consumers? The hundreds of positive comments from Amazon reviewers are a good sign. A dollhouse that inspires your daughter to become an engineer — what's not to love?
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