Physics Majors Mentor Others and Inspire Real World Change

Posted: October 23rd, 2018

In September 2018, Physics majors Lauren Isenhour and Kiera Thibault were instrumental in organizing and hosting a two-day all-woman workshop, MISSion: Innovation. MISSion: Innovation provided girls and young woman an opportunity to explore science, math, engineering, technology, and design.

Isenhour’s interest in mentoring and creating a community for women in STEAM has been long-standing. Inspired years ago by Pretty Brainy’s founder, Heidi Olinger, Isenhour became involved in the organization to do her part to provide experiences for women interested in science. Last year, after a Pretty Brainy brainstorming meeting at a local coffee shop, they realized they could combine their organization’s efforts with a Fort Collins initiative to advance the cities’ climate action plan. “We realized we could get some serious change to happen,” says Isenhour. Inspired by hackathons, they formed the idea for MISSion: Innovation.

As students in CSU’s Physics department, Isenhour and Thibault’s education uniquely prepared them for mentoring at this event.  “Physics, as the study of the natural world, goes into everything,” says Isenhour, “and with a physics brain, you can map out and think through any kind of problem.”


Thibault, agreed, “It’s the way we learn to think. While engineers may focus on the question of ‘does it work?’ while Physicists focus on, ‘Why does it work, what environment is it in?’ Creative thinking and critical thinking are crucial to answering those questions.”

Not only did MISSion: Innovation produce a real project called ThermaFox that will be funded by Fort Collins (a project that involves applying thermal paint to roofs that changes color to naturally cool or heat a home), but it also created a space for young girls and women to think about a career in science. Isenhour says, “Events like this are important in multiple ways. Young women learn they can do STEM. Also, as people who we want to take action on climate, we are here taking action on climate. Finally, events like this cause a ripple effect, whether it be ideas for climate issues, or design thinking in general.”

Thibault added she also learned more about herself. Before the event, she was dead-set on going into research, but now, “this experience was enlightening, and helped me realize I wanted to explore more mentoring and teaching opportunities.”

And for Isenhour and Thibault, the mission is only beginning. Part 2, a behavior change campaign, is already in the works. Over the next 8 months, they will be working on an app and a website modeled after the University of California’s Cool Campus Challenge. Utilizing the human-centered design-thinking taught at MISSion: Innovation, the digital platforms will aim to educate and encourage people in fun ways to make small changes that will result in a big impact.

Read more about the September 2018 MISSion: Innovation event: