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The Rocky Mountain Collegian

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MISSion Innovation empowers women to pursue STEM

MISSion Innovation 2018 Flyer (Photo courtesy of Lauren Isenhour)

Women studying science, math, engineering and technology are on a mission to empower young women and girls to pursue the same path.

On Sept 22-23 from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m., Pretty Brainy will be hosting an event called MISSion Innovation, an all-woman innovation marathon geared towards designing carbon-reducing technology. This innovation marathon is a part of Pretty Brainy’s pitch for the Innovate Fort Collins Challenge looking to reduce carbon emissions in the city.


MISSion Innovation, which has a $75 participation fee and scholarships available, will focus on mentorship with the designing of a climate action solution. According to Heidi Olinger, the founder of Pretty Brainy, there are fewer women employed in the energy field compared to technology and other STEM-related fields. 

“We’re only going to get one kind of idea if we have only straight white males in this field,” said Lauren Isenhour, project manager for MISSion Innovation and senior studying physics. “We’re only going to get those ideas from those backgrounds. If we get more people from more diverse backgrounds, then we’ll get more diverse ideas and it’ll be better science because you get everyone’s opinion. And diversity historically starts with women.”

Through MISSion Innovation, Pretty Brainy wants to prove to young girls and others that they can work in the energy field and they have these innovative ideas.

MISSion Innovation:

When: Sept. 22-23, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily
Cost: $75, scholarships and group discounts avaliable 
Where: CSU

Pretty Brainy is a grassroots, nonprofit organization that matches up women in science mentors with young girls interested in science. Olinger decided to found the organization over five years ago to keep young girls in science, both because most young girls start to lose interest in science in middle and high school and because she was inspired by her niece that had a forward thinking mind at a young age.

“I had a young nice who was truly exceptional,” Olinger said. “She was pitching questions to me about physics and this was about age five … I wanted to keep her as strong and believing in her mind and thinking big at age 13 as she was at age seven.”

The difference between Pretty Brainy and other empowerment organizations is Pretty Brainy focuses on encouraging women to explore STE(A)M, which includes art and design into the original acronym. According to Isenhour, this is because STEM and art and design are not mutually exclusive, and STEM majors need to be creative.

“There’s so many people in physics who go ‘I don’t know how to start,'” Isenhour said. “‘Starting the problem is the physics, but sometimes you have to be creative with that. But if you don’t have a creative mind or a slightly artistic ability, you’re not going to be able to (start the problem).”

Guest Experts:

– Kristen Buchanan, associate physics professor 
– Susan James, professor and chair of the department of mechanical engineering 
– Sybil Sharvelle, associate professor, civil and environmental engineering
– Sonia Kreidenweis, distinguished professor of atmospheric science
– Brittany Bloodhart, atmospheric science post-doctoral student
– Pat Aloise-Young, associate professor of psychology

Isabella Pettner, a sophomore studying apparel merchandising, started with Pretty Brainy when she was in sixth grade and is now working on a limited liability company for a hand-washing design she built. Although shes still involved with Pretty Brainy and other stem activities, she pursues fashion because it’s her passion.

“What I love about Pretty Brainy is… It was very much about you have this difference only you can make in the world,” Pettner said. “And even though I’m good at STEM and engineering… (STEM and art) are not mutually exclusive things. I felt confident being like I love engineering, but fashion is calling me.”


Pretty Brainy focuses on the idea that girls don’t have to have a career in STEM.  Their goal is to provide women with experience and knowledge that allows them to make an informed decision on what they want to pursue in life.

“If Pretty Brainy can give girls experiences in areas that they formerly didn’t know were open to them, didn’t know that certain occupations or opportunities even existed, then we’ve done something,” Olinger said. “Then young women can at least make an informed decision based on an experience we’ve given them.”

Collegian reporter Julia Trowbridge can be reached at or on twitter @chapin_jules.

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