We spoke with inventor and entrepreneur, Ann Makosinski about her beginnings in STEM, her experiences growing up as a girl in STEM, and her advice for Canada’s future scientists and innovators.
How were you encouraged to get into inventing?
I was really blessed to have parents that didn’t give me a lot of toys and didn’t allow me to play video games or watch TV shows (for the most part). When you have less to play with as a child (and as an adult!), you’re forced to be more creative with whatever resources you do have around. As a young child, I took to harvesting whatever I could find around the house, and piecing it together to create my first “inventions”. These creations never usually worked, but the idea of combining the resources around me to solve a problem (namely my lack of entertainment/toys!) was enforced into my character. My mum comes from a tiny village in the Philippines, and my father was born in Poland during the end of WWII, so growing up they too had to be very crafty with whatever they did have, and I am thankful that they instilled a similar belief in me.
What are some of the challenges that women in STEM face, and how have you overcome them?
Women in STEM often are not taken seriously in professional settings because of the mere fact of being female. Assuming someone has certain “detrimental” attributes simply because of their gender or appearance is an outrageous concept that needs to be eradicated in today’s modern age. Women are born leaders, yet their presence in science history appears subdued, and instead overtaken by old white men. This needs to change. Women need to feel like they have an equal chance of making a difference in the world, especially when it comes to working in STEM. Additionally, the stereotypes perpetuated by the entertainment industry of what a “science nerd” typically looks and acts like has both turned many young women away from pursuing STEM and also created a lot of assumptions about females (and males) in STEM that are negative and untrue.
When I began getting media/public attention for my flashlight invention at age 15, I was scared to dress a little fancy or wear “too much” makeup or jewelry, in case people didn’t take me seriously. I regret that I didn’t get the opportunity – or at least feel safe enough – to completely appear like myself at that age. I did a video with Vice a few years ago, and I was delighted to be featured in a colourful creative red/pink set, with a matching outfit, and my hair done in a 1960s style that I loved. It was shocking to see so many angry people in the comments saying I wouldn’t be taken seriously because of my appearance, or that they were upset that my hair and makeup had been done. I thought this was ridiculous and had loved the whole experience of creating the video. Nowadays, I dress however I want and wear as much or little makeup/jewelry as I like. I love expressing myself through fashion and art, and I now don’t have any problem celebrating that. Once I became stronger and more confident with myself, I realized that anyone who didn’t appreciate that was someone I wouldn’t want to work with or be friends with in the first place.
What is the best part about being involved in STEM?
Being able to have the best of both worlds – pursuing art AND science! I am so happy (and feel very lucky) to be able to do both fields, instead of leaving one of my passions behind to work on the other. I encourage all readers to pursue multiple interests in varying fields, it keeps your brain active and inspired.
What advice would you give to young girls to inspire them to pursue STEM?
Be yourself! Don’t let anybody tell you that how you are as a lovely human being is “not good enough”. Try not to care if there are fewer girls than boys around you in STEM-related activities, just show up and do your best! Being in slightly uncomfortable situations is the way I’ve learned the most about myself and grown as a human being. It’s not healthy to be comfortable all the time, there will be nothing to propel you forward! And always carry around a little notebook and pen, so you can write down your ideas at any time, any place — don’t use your phone.
What is up next for you as an innovator and entrepreneur?
It’s been such a long journey, and each year I have an equal amount of “successes” and mistakes. At the start of this year, I had to start from ground zero and leave behind a lot of things that wouldn’t have induced maximum positive growth and energy in my life. It was absolutely terrifying. However, I am happy to say that I am currently working on some new book and television projects and will resume inventing later this fall/winter once work cools down for me.