Last summer I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Games + Learning + Society Conference in Madison, Wisconsin. During the conference I learned about some really fun ways of learning through games. One game that I learned about was Robot Turtles, a board game that teaches young children to code. Robot Turtles is produced by ThinkFun. I interviewed Andrea Barthello, Co-Founder and COO of ThinkFun to hear her thoughts on girls in STEM. See our discussion below.
Hillary: Why did you decide to launch ThinkFun?
Andrea: Bill and I started what was then called Binary Arts so that we could bring the ideas of brilliant scientists, teachers, and thinkers to the world in a physical form that would allow kids and adults to play with concepts in a way that we felt the market didn’t celebrate or offer.¬† Our first brainteasers and one mathematical puzzle were created by a Computer Scientist named Bill Keister – a friend of Bill’s (my husband) family. This is a long story but the short answer is that Bill and I together had an incredible drive to make our own way in the world and we found that we have very complimentary skills – that was the magic that we started with.
Hillary: Did you enjoy science as a little girl?
Andrea: I was born in the mid-fifties – I think if “science” had been taught in a different way I would have been all over so many more things than I expressed in school. I have found that I am a hands on learner – so I was always building towns in the dirt, using Lincoln logs to build houses, creating adventures to go on when I had a horse – always seeking out things to conquer that I knew nothing about – so now when I look back I know that I am an amazing problem solver and that ability could have taken me in so many different directions. I am very happy with my journey so far!
Hillary: What first got you interested in Science?
Andrea: I love the problem solving aspects of science. I am not a scientist however I love reading about research, discoveries and the process scientists go through on the journey to figuring things out – some of the more science focused talks at TED really blow me away.
Hillary: What was the coolest STEM- related thing you have done in your life outside of work?
Andrea: I suppose the fact that I am really drawn to and have led many projects involving renovations of interior and exterior spaces – exposes me to engineering – and I love being involved however I am not the poster child for STEM – more an advocate. In terms of the M in STEM – the coolest thing I have done is encourage our son Sam to try to get a patent on his invention “Math Dice” – and he did. The result was/is that Math Dice and Math Dice Jr. are in the top 10 of our product sales in the US – both our boys are amazing at Math so I have been fortunate to be able to see a bit thru their eyes – but they blow me out of the water on all of those topics.
Hillary: What do you think is most exciting about your current job?
Andrea: We are celebrating the 30th anniversary of starting ThinkFun and one of the most exciting things about my current role of COO is that I get to work with really smart people who lead various teams of more smart people every day at work. The collaboration and fun that all of us at experience by identifying, figuring out how to make, and then bringing to market innovative products is an amazing experience. I also really enjoy seeing people on our team grow in their own areas of passion – and I really like to see everyone having lunch together and laughing.
Hillary: Have you participated in any programs that have allowed you to encourage girls in STEM?
Andrea: I am currently a co-mentor to Sharon Matshabaphala and Rajai Pitroda who are two of the four winners of the 2014 DevelopHer Challenge. They are really smart – have great ideas and I hope I can be of value to them.
Hillary: What is your biggest career goal?
Andrea: Well at ThinkFun I am definitely at the top of my game so beyond that my biggest career goal is to become be in a position to share what I have learned so far in the areas of business, parenting, and life – simply said – I want to publish a book that is considered to be inspiring to young and old alike.
Hillary: Which STEM Girl is your hero?
Andrea: Colleen Flanigan is my hero – she is a socio-ecological artist. Through visual, performing, and biological arts, she investigates contemporary issues of species endangerment and ecosystem regeneration, specifically coral reefs. Her work encompasses Living Sea Sculptures, conversation-catalyzing alter egos, participatory multimedia exhibitions, and more. That quote is from her website Colleen is brilliant, creative and impactful – the way she is able to connect is like nothing I have ever seen – I consider her a friend and she is a hero.
Hillary: If you could give advice to a young girl who is interested in STEM, what would you say to her?
Andrea: I would say watch, read and learn about other people’s stories – people who are doing things that are interesting to you – not only women but men as well. Watch TED talks, science shows, things about the ocean and planets. Get comfortable with the fact that all of us are on a journey and that whatever you are interested in, those things that make you smile – this is the start of the journey that you are already on you -don’t let anyone derail you.
Thank you to Andrea for sharing your thoughts and for being a great advocate for STEM and learning in creative, playful ways.
Girl Museum Inc.