Jo Sommers is a co-founder at Maker Sense – a maker-ed publishing company. She’s spent much of her career as a Creative Director with a background in design and art direction working with prominent global advertising and marketing firms. She was part of the early start-up community in Silicon Beach (Los Angeles) and became head of marketing at AIO Robotics (the pioneers of “all-in-one” 3D desktop printing). It was here she gained transformative exposure to the burgeoning STEM/STEAM and Maker Education movements. She ran hands-on 3D printing events for a number of years before recognizing an opportunity to create content that inspires young Makers to “make to learn” with 3D printing, 3D Design, and Maker Education.

Jo, could you let us know about your background and what brought you to 3D printing in the first place? 

I come from an advertising and design background and got into 3D printing when I was living in Silicon Beach (Santa Monica – LA) back in 2013. I was working with a startup tech venture and attended a Digital LA event where I saw AIO Robotics pitch their 3D scanner/3D printer. I was blown away by the technology and so were the judges. They won first place and the next day I started working with them on their events and marketing strategy and went on to open their first southern hemisphere branch in Sydney, Australia.  

Can you describe your very first experience with 3D Printing? 

My first hands-on experience with 3D Printing was at USC in Los Angeles. I was helping shoot content to tell the story about what the ZEUS 3D printer/3D scanner could achieve and got an intense education from the inventors.  I believe the best way to tell a brand story is to get inside the head of the user. So I made sure I quickly became a passionate user – and rolled my sleeves up and started to experience all the pleasures (and of course the PAIN) that comes with learning anything new- especially 3D printing! 

Could you explain furthermore what Maker Sense is and the services that you are providing? 

Maker Sense is a publishing company that provides lesson plans and education for teachers and middle school students who want to learn skills in 3D printing, maker-education, and STEAM. Our first book contains all the information we wished existed in one place when we were first learning about 3D printing.

How did you come to build the company? 

During my time at AIO Robotics, I realized that there was a lack of education and information for teachers to be able to seamlessly integrate 3D printing in the classroom. I listened to what schools were up against and wanted to provide a solution to support teachers with a pedagogically sound program that would engage male and female students equally. A lot of the curriculum addressing 3D printing at the time was very masculine and we wanted to demonstrate how art and engineering could come together to appeal to both right and left-brain focused students.   

You are also Women in 3D Printing ambassador for Sydney. What can you tell us about Sydney’s community? What makes it unique? 

It’s an exciting time to be part of the 3D printing and the startup community in Sydney. I’ve been back here for 4 years after living in LA for 10 years and have seen communal workspaces and creative spaces / makerspaces popping up everywhere. People are taking risks and exploring new ways of working. Sydney is no different to other major cities around in the world in that 3D printing is disrupting every sector and it’s an exciting time of rapid change. 

Why did you decide to become a Women in 3D Printing ambassador? 

For most of my career, I was often one of the few women in the creative department. There are very few women in creative director roles around the world. It’s the same in 3D printing and related fields. I became a Women in 3D Printing ambassador to help encourage and support other women who are in the sector or interested in learning more about exploring the possibilities. 

To date, what would you say is your greatest achievement in Additive Manufacturing? 

Publishing The 3D Printing Project Book – a full-color 124-page book to help young designers (and their teachers) understand not just the design aspect but the broader landscape and why it’s so valuable to learn as a student in the 21st-century classroom. 

Do you have any (fun or not) story about your career to share with us? 

We partnered with Google at the Special Olympics in Los Angeles to showcase 3D printed prosthetics. It still makes me cry tears of joy when I think about the difference we made to many kids who were able to experience prosthetics when previously it would have been too expensive. Kids grow quickly so many amputees are forced to wait until adulthood to get fitted for their life-changing prosthetics. I was proud of our team for sponsoring that event and for making a difference to so many kids. 

Have you run into any challenges from being a woman entrepreneur in 3D Printing? 

In 2016, AIO Robotics was an innovation awards honoree at CES (the world’s largest consumer electronics show in the world.) I spoke to hundreds of incredible people at that event and only a handful of them were women. That was quite challenging – especially being “mansplained” to about my own product! It’s challenging being in the minority at an event like CES but it did mean that the bathroom queues were shorter! There’s a positive side to everything. 

Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?

We’re officially launching our book in Q3, and running workshops around Sydney to help teachers with 3D printing in the classroom. 

What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far? 

I think the best examples of  3D printing having the greatest impact, is when it saves lives. Recently, a 15-year-old boy in Byron Bay, shattered his skull falling from a cliff. He will receive a 3D printed cranial implant that doctors are confident will help him make a full recovery.

What do you consider game-changing technologies in Additive Manufacturing?

I’m excited about the innovation that’s happening in the materials sector. Affordable machines that can print with a variety of materials is what will push the sector forward. Especially materials that can be generated with minimal impact to the environment whether that’s recycled materials or renewables. 

What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you:

  • As a business person?

I love working in an industry that while initially, it may have been overhyped, it’s currently experiencing rapid growth and that makes it exciting. 

  •  As a woman?

I am interested in exploring ways to attract more women to fields that have been traditionally dominated by men and believe that 3D printing is an excellent way to do that. 

What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?

Most people around the world are still baffled as to what 3D printing even is. I would like to see more people understand its uses and limitations, to become less about the scary notion that in the wrong hands people could print guns etc, and more about how in the right hands it can save lives and be a more sustainable way to make and repair things.  

In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?

I think we need to start the encouragement early. The younger the students, the more the momentum will build throughout school, college and the workplace. And we do this by implementing a cross-curricular approach to learning with a focus on maker-education, rather than teaching subjects in siloes. 

Favorite 3D tool (could be a software, machine, material…you name it)? Anything Autodesk or the new features of Adobe products that enable better 3D design. 

Favorite moment in your day job? Demonstrating 3D printing to people who have never seen it before (yes they still exist).

What’s on your 3D Printing wishlist for the next 5 years? A metal 3D printer 

Another inspiring woman you’d like us to interview? My fellow Australian (Brisbane and Melbourne) ambassadors. Those women are very inspiring! 

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