These College Friends Are Helping Empower Girls To Follow Their Science-Minded Dreams

Supriya Hobbs and Janna Eaves both always had an interest in the engineering sciences. But after their initial meeting in their early college years, the pair realized just how rare it was for other young women to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields as careers. So they decided to do something about it.

Raised by two chemists, Hobbs, 22, spent her entire life surrounded by science and engineering. When she tagged along on “Take Your Kids To Work” day, she enjoyed observing chemistry experiments and being immersed in her parents' world.

“I definitely wasn’t forced in one direction, but it was something that I never saw as strange,” Hobbs told The Huffington Post. “I just don’t remember a time when I wanted to be in anything else outside of STEM fields. “

While Eaves grew up with two engineers for parents, it never really occurred to her that she could be one of them, too. She spent time dabbling in environmental science due to her interests in sustainability, but she truly wanted to be an actress. It wasn’t until she attended a solar decathlon in Washington, D.C., that she realized her scientific interest could take her further than she initially thought.

“It became clear that if I did care about sustainability and I wanted to change the world in that way, instead of just studying it or reading about it, I could go and do something and build something,” Eaves told The Huffington Post. “That was a really attractive idea to me.”

The two women met by chance at the University of Illinois, where they lived on the same dormitory floor that housed Innovation LLC, a living-learning community for students with an interest in entrepreneurship and innovation. They both joined the Society of Women Engineers and spent their free time participating in outreach activities that helped bring science and engineering education to kids in the local community. This time spent volunteering helped them realize just how rare it was for girls to express an interest in the sciences -- or to act on those interests.

“We started getting more involved with the ‘why’ of it,” said Eaves. “Why aren’t girls as interested in science and engineering? And when they are, why don’t they pursue it? And we found that a lot of it comes down to what they see and engage with growing up, and also their role models.”

Almost instantly, the duo began to brainstorm ways to use both of those variables -- adolescence and the role models present during that time -- to help increase the number of women who not only acknowledge their passions, but also feel empowered to use them to change the world. A college mentor encouraged Hobbs and Eaves to take their idea to a startup competition on their campus in 2013 and work on a solution to this persistent problem. Within one night of brainstorming, Hobbs and Eaves built the founding idea for Miss Possible.

The goal behind Miss Possible is simple: shake up the norms of what girls “can” and “cannot” do when it comes to pursuing their careers and passions, and empower them to go after whatever it is that inspires them most. The venture will expose young girls to successful female role models through toy dolls, and an accompanying app will show them possibilities they may not see otherwise during their childhood.

“Role models are seen as really important in girls’ eventual career choices,” said Hobbes. “There’s a saying -- ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ And so we thought the dolls and the combined interactive component in the app were a good way to get the role models introduced and also provide some of that skill-building, which is really core and helps them build confidence.”

Each doll comes with access to the Miss Possible app and content specifically related to that character. Young girls can also explore the story of the woman’s life, and play both physical and on-screen games that help them get to know her work in real life.

After another successful run in their university’s startup competition earlier this year, Hobbs and Eaves set out to launch their social entrepreneurship venture. They built a design and development team for the product, selected a manufacturer and launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise the necessary funds to make Miss Possible a reality. They recently surpassed their fundraising goal of $75,000, and the delivery of Miss Possible dolls is scheduled to begin in early 2015.

Hobbs will be balancing the new business with her first postgraduate job, and Eaves will be multitasking with it through her final year the University of Illinois. Both women said they plan to prioritize the project. The bigger challenge, they added, was deciding to take the leap in the first place.

“It’s actually really nerve-wracking to go from an idea to a product because you commit,” said Eaves on the quick success of the business thus far. “You can talk about a great idea that you have all day, but that transition from talking words and throwing money down and building something and making something happen takes a lot of emotional energy … We put our savings into it, and all of this time to say, ‘Yes, this is important to us, and it’s something that we’re going to act on.’”

The initial three doll designs will include chemist and two-time Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie, aviator Bessie Coleman and computer programmer Ada Lovelace. Hobbs and Eaves are focusing on the STEM fields at first because of the lack of women entering these professions. However, as their program expands in the future, the women look forward to offering role model dolls and accompanying apps to suit every girl’s dream -- from journalism to fashion design, Eaves said.

“It’s about doing what you want to do and what you’re passionate about, and going for it and not letting anyone tell you you’re not good enough or your gender is going to hold you back,” said Eaves. “It’s about encouraging girls to do whatever they need to do -- not just science and engineering.”

Once Miss Possible is up and running, the women also want to help empower girls to pursue these passions in more direct ways. In the future, they hope to use some of the Miss Possible profits to offer scholarships and donations to young women who need financial assistance to pursue their career passions.

“No matter where we end up and if it works out, this was an incredible experience for us,” said Eaves. “I don’t feel limited anymore. I don’t feel like there’s nothing I can do to improve society. I feel like I can and I will be doing things like this for the rest of my life.”