Girls Will Design Lighting for Habitat for Humanity While Working with Professional Engineers and Engineering Majors

Fort Collins, Colorado — (Jan. 14, 2015) — Beginning February 6, girls in middle school and high school will team up with engineering majors at Colorado State University to design the lighting for a Habitat for Humanity home for a single mother and her children. Stepping into the role of design engineer, the girls will learn how designers design and gain the real-world skill and know-how to install their designs in a home in Fort Collins, CO.

The program, Pretty Brilliant, is the first program of its kind to benefit Fort Collins Habitat for Humanity, says Executive Director Kristen Candella. Pretty Brilliant will immerse girls in engineering while supporting them in the goal of designing lighting that will enhance home safety and energy efficiency.

At the same time, a community of engineers will informally mentor the girls. The vision, says Heidi Olinger, is to give girls a ready-made community of people with the resources and experience to help them on the road to pursuing their own studies and careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math). Olinger is the founder of Pretty Brainy, the education nonprofit organization spearheading Pretty Brilliant. Members of the student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers at Colorado State University will serve as project managers for Pretty Brilliant. Girls in middle school and high school may more easily identify with university students, who are at the next higher level of attainment, than with women who are years or even decades their senior, no matter how accomplished they are, says Olinger.

“Placing informal mentoring at the heart of the program,” she continues, “will increase our opportunity to inspire, support, and sustain girls in STEM.” The program addresses the fact that fewer than one-quarter of degrees in engineering and engineering technologies in the United States are earned by females. What’s more, 86 percent of females in engineering, science, and technology report that they do not have a sponsor to guide and help them advance in their profession. The reasons, as cited in a recent report from the Center for Talent Innovation, come down to what is missing: community and mentorship.

Space is available in Pretty Brilliant for 15 middle school and 15 high school girls. Registration may be completed online at There is a one-time registration fee of $99. Scholarships are available.

Pretty Brilliant will meet Fridays, February 6 to April 24, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Colorado State University in the Scott Bioengineering Building. The Scott Building is located on the southeast corner of Laurel St. and Meridian Ave. in Fort Collins.

Pretty Brilliant is made possible by the OtterCares Foundation, whose mission is to champion innovative education that inspires young people to become philanthropists and entrepreneurs. OtterCares Executive Director Gary Rogers cites the “philanthropic and entrepreneurial spirit” nurtured by Pretty Brainy. “Ultimately, we feel the efforts of Pretty Brainy will encourage female students to become more immersed and excited about STEM education, which will provide the foundation and confidence to pursue their interests.”

Support also comes from Environmental Lights, named by Inc. Magazine as one of America’s fastest-growing private companies. Environmental Lights, an industry leader in specialized LED lighting, is providing the lighting components with which the students will design. Engineers at Environmental Lights, including Candice Garcia, lead product engineer, will help instruct and mentor girls in the program.

Pretty Brilliant began when Anne Thorson, Environmental Lights co-founder, contacted Olinger in March with an offer of support. Though the two had been out of touch for 40 years, they first met in home room in the 7th grade and became best friends. Thorson, who now has three daughters of her own, says, “We were the kind of girls who would have been in this program.”

For more information on Environmental Lights, contact Anne Thorson at 858-798-9604 or

For information on Fort Collins Habitat for Humanity, contact Raquel Martinez at 970-488-2610 or

For more information on Pretty Brainy, contact Heidi Olinger.

Heidi Olinger
Pretty Brainy CEO