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Girls Build! is a year-round STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and leadership development program for female-identifying students in middle school to explore their interests in architecture, construction, engineering and design.

By Lisa Ciota, CAC Education Guide and Docent-in-Training

Although the 10th annual Open House Chicago focused exclusively on outdoor and virtual experiences, there was still one indoor, in-person enhancement: a special, COVID-safe welcome for Chicago Architecture Center visitors from 15 Girls Build! participants.

During the first weekend of OHC 2020, October 17 and 18, these young women served as junior exhibit hosts, guiding guests through the Center’s galleries and engaging a few dozen people in discussions about the exhibits.

“This was a great skill-building activity for the girls as they learned about, interpreted and translated what makes Chicago the city of architecture,” said CAC Director of Education and Experience Angela Esposito.

While sometimes nervous talking with visitors, the girls gained confidence from the experience. “I was surprised at how much I actually do know!” said Carly, age 11. “This was fun, and people seemed excited to talk to us!” said Kirkland, age 14.

Offered in six- to eight-week sessions multiple times a year, Girls Build! opens doors for the next generation of design professionals, through hands-on instruction and mentoring from women leaders in these fields.

The focus of the Fall 2020 Girls Build! Session—which ran from September 27 to November 1—was on 21st-century skills that apply to the world of architecture and engineering. This included collaboration and teamwork; creativity and imagination; and critical thinking and problem solving.

Girls Build! participants also practice their leadership and communications skills in the program. For fall 2020 participants, this was accomplished through their service as junior exhibit hosts at the Center.

“I feel like this helped me become a better and braver public speaker, especially when defending my work during a presentation,” said Faye, age 13. The activity even left Cyriana, age 12, asking, “Can we do this again next year?!”

The CAC’s answer to Cyriana is “Yes—and much sooner than October 2021.” Themed “Sustainable Futures,” the second annual Girls Build! Day on January 9, 2021 brings participants together with women who are changing urban landscapes through green design and respect for natural resources. Breakout sessions include activities and workshops. Partners confirmed to date include Chicago Mobile Makers, CannonDesign, I-NOMA (a local chapter and subdivision of the National Organization of Minority Architects), Open Architecture Chicago, the Center for Architecture in New York, Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and Women in Structural Engineering (WiSE).

The Chicago Architecture Center’s second annual Girls Build! Day will be held from 10am to noon on Saturday, January 9, 2021. Girls Build! events and programs are made possible by support from ArcelorMittal and Herman Miller Cares.