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The other shirt with women on it: Kickstarter campaign spotlights STEM pioneers

After a male scientist wore an offensive shirt in an interview, Elly Zupko made a Kickstarter campaign for "#thatothershirt" instead, to promote STEM education.

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Image: Elly Zupko

Last month, the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft caught up with a comet moving toward the sun and successfully landed the Philae lander on it, which will allow scientists to study the possible beginnings of planets. The landing was an incredible moment for science.

And then, in an interview about the mission, Dr. Matt Taylor, the project scientist, distracted everyone from that sign of progress by wearing a very regressive — and offensive — shirt covered in scantily-clad women and guns.

Annoyed, a woman named Elly Zupko tweeted her own edited version of the photo of Taylor, instead covering his shirt with photos of notable women in science and technology. She captioned it, "there I fixed it."

The photo was retweeted more than 2,000 times. Zupko said Twitter analytics estimated it was seen up to 300,000 times. People on social media were excited about the idea of an actual "other shirt" covered in women, so she started looking into what it would take to make one. She thought the proceeds could go toward an organization promoting diversity in STEM education.

The Hawaiian-style shirt was her first choice, as a funny call-back to Taylor's shirt, she said. But since they were so expensive, she wanted to offer a lower-cost version as well. It was still a lot of money — so Kickstarter sounded like a good idea to fund the project. Zupko set up "STEM: Women Are All Over It - #ThatOtherShirt," with a goal of $5,000 and plans to give the money to nonprofits supporting STEM education. She offered other perks, such as a poster version of the shirt (which I ordered about a week ago), a digital download of the poster, and at the highest level, a chance to pick your own notable STEM leader to appear on the shirt.

"I've crowdsourced all along the way—gathering nominations for women to go onto the design, finding photos I could legally use for the design, getting ideas for what sizes and types of shirts were most desired, etc. So crowdfunding fit with that," Zupko said.

She added more women to "That Other Shirt": Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, Alice Ball, Jane Goodall. All are notable women in science and technology, in fields such as chemistry, physics, aeronautics, paleontology, and mathematics.

Then this shirt went viral. It was fully funded in 11 hours. And in just a day, the campaign reached 144% of its goal. It's now at almost $25,000, with 16 days left to go.

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Image: Elly Zupko

"I joked to my friends that I feel like David in the viral 'David After Dentist' YouTube video. 'Is this real life?' But outside the shock, I'm touched and full of gratitude," she said.

Zupko decided to work with the National Girls Collaborative Project, whose vision is "to bring together organizations throughout the United States that are committed to informing and encouraging girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)." NGCP serves 39 states in the US, and facilitates collaboration between 12,800 organizations who serve 8.35 million girls and 4.5 million boys, Zupkoa said, which showed her that the funds will go far. She's also working with Lancaster Science Factory, who will have the shirt in a new retail shop. They will keep some funds to reinvest into their mission to create better learning environments for STEM education, Zupko said.

Zupko launched a not-for-profit organization called SMLX Good, Inc. to manage the campaign. She has also hinted at having other retail partnerships in the works.

"I've been so inspired by the people who have jumped in to help with complete selflessness. A professional archivist offer to help me source photos and gave me tips on how to search better. One woman offered to take on the task of working with the Smithsonian to track down every photo I was missing. Other people have offered to help me fill orders when the time comes. The company I work for has offered their headquarters as a staging area to receive the wholesale shipments and fill orders," she said.

After the campaign closes, Zupko will have to fill orders, which she may outsource if the scope continues to grow.

"Beyond that, I'll be looking for ways to make the design into a sustainable source of funds for non-profit organizations with STEM-related missions," she said. "That means continued retail sales of the shirt, and possibly other products that feature the print, such as fabric or wrapping paper. The possibilities are really endless."

As a day job, Zupko manages bids and proposals for Beacon Associates, which provides IT solutions, and consulting to federal agencies like NASA. Outside of that, she writes fiction and non-fiction. And she now has another near-full-time gig managing "That Other Shirt," which has received an outpouring of help that has made her realize that this isn't just another product. It's something "really, really important to people," she said.

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About Lyndsey Gilpin

Lyndsey Gilpin is a former Staff Writer for TechRepublic, covering sustainability and entrepreneurship. She's co-author of the book Follow the Geeks.

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