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Getting Ahead with Girl Scouts

Learn how GS is helping girls explore careers in technology and design.

With some creative problem solving, Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast (GSCCC) was able to serve hundreds of girls virtually over the summer months, including offering virtual camp sessions. Now GSCCC is moving full speed ahead with fall plans, promoting virtual troop programs and virtual events for girls and adults. Some of the virtual programs will include the 24 new badges that were released in late July by Girl Scouts of the USA.

The new badges are incentives for girls to explore science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in a variety of ways. For example, there are three automotive badges: design, engineering, and manufacturing. Girls can sketch their own vehicles, build their own model vehicles and, with help of volunteers, understand the whole process.

GSCCC CEO Tracy Keller says offering a new line of automotive badges is critical. Despite recent progress, women have continued to be underrepresented across the entire auto industry, and having these new Girl Scout badges may inspire a whole new generation of girls to enter the field.

According to research, women represent less than one-quarter of the automotive workforce today, despite making up almost half of the entire U.S. labor force. Women make up about 19 percent of automobile dealers and hold only 10 percent of repair and maintenance positions. Female leaders across the industry, such as Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, are eager for these numbers to improve.

In August, Mary stepped up to do a webinar for Girl Scouts, Awesome Girls: Engineer Your World. She spoke alongside Sylvia Acevedo, then CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA and a former NASA Engineer. The pair geared the discussion towards empowering girls and gave suggestions on how to step into traditionally male-dominated fields without fear. Girl Scouts have more virtual events like this one coming up during fall months.

Starting Young

Along with the automotive badges, there are also career inspiration badges where girls will meet women in STEM fields. The goal is to open these badges to girls starting as young as Girl Scout Brownies, grades 2 and 3, all the way up through Cadettes in 8th grade and beyond.

GSCCC CEO Tracy Keller said that STEM has always been a part of Girl Scouts and that at least half of Girl Scout badges have STEM components. The new badges are more explicit and more focused on getting girls to explore STEM careers.

“We want to give girls an opportunity to learn new things and meet people in these fields, and we want to start early when we can have a real impact on grabbing their interest and keeping them involved into their high school years and beyond,” she said.

This summer, GSCCC offered a variety of STEM virtual events, including virtual camp. Molly Lam and her sister Kate attended Camp Skywatch, a weeklong virtual “at home” camp.

Molly, a rising Girl Scout Cadette in middle school, and Kate, a rising Girl Scout Junior in fourth grade, have been in Girl Scouts since kindergarten. The girls are individually registered—not in a troop—so they do a lot of badge activities on their own at home. They do go to summer camp and look forward to it each year.

“They both share a fascination with space and dream of traveling in space one day, so this was perfect,” the girls’ mom, Erica Lam said. “It provided a wonderful way for them to connect with other girls, albeit virtually, and it incorporated fun camping traditions along with STEM-themed activities. They learned a lot. They were proud to learn that every female U.S. astronaut to walk in space has been a Girl Scout. But by far the favorite memory was doing a scavenger hunt to see who could come back to their camera the quickest with the item.”

STEM for Girls

Whether virtual or in-person, there remains a real need for STEM programs directed exclusively for girls, such as the one offered by Girl Scouts. Research indicates that STEM education needs to start early and must involve female role models.

A study done by Microsoft in partnership with KRC Research found that despite the high priority that’s placed on STEM in schools, efforts to expand female interest and employment in STEM and computer science are not working as well as intended. This is especially true in technology and engineering. The reasons include peer pressure, a lack of role models, little support from parents and teachers, and a general misconception that STEM jobs are more suited to males.

This research is corroborated by other studies, including those by the Girl Scout Research Institute, and points to better ways to support girls in STEM such as increasing the number of STEM mentors and role models—including parents—to help build young girls’ confidence.

Girls who are encouraged by their parents are twice as likely to stay in STEM. In areas such as computer science, dads can have a greater influence on their daughters than moms yet are less likely to talk to their daughters about STEM.

Another way to support girls is by creating inclusive classrooms and environments that value girls’ opinions and celebrate the stories of women who are in STEM today. Girl Scouts are doing that.

“We have built strong community partnerships [with organizations that] understand our goals, such as the Society of Women Engineers and area colleges and science museums,” Tracy said. “While we have these professional resources, we also make these badges accessible to our leaders. You don’t have to know how to program a computer or build a robot to work with girls on these badges.”

Girls Using Their Voices

In addition to STEM and automotive badges, there are new civic badges to help girls learn about local government and ways to use their voices through community action projects. In August, GSCCC partnered with WHRO TV-15 to host a virtual civic event to celebrate Women’s Equality Day and the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Girls were encouraged to use this experience to work on a new civic badge.

Girls viewed a segment from the film, The Vote, and then met women role models virtually who were involved in policy making and advocating for voter registration.

The last group in the new badge lineup are the entrepreneurship badges. These let girls dig deeper into how to create their own business and how to put ideas into place—taking skills learned from the Cookie Program to another level. Girls learn how to develop their hobby into an income producer or how to create their dream career.

Mary Elysse Santa, a director of a nonprofit in Moyock, North Carolina, is a prime example of how a Girl Scout took her interest and turned it into a budding business. While in Girl Scouts, she used her theater talent to create a Gold Award project to bring the performing arts to kids living in at-risk areas.

Her project, Broadway or Bust, became the name of the nonprofit she formed after graduating college. With the help of a volunteer staff, she is serving hundreds of kids each year, offering summer camps, workshops for Girl Scouts, and working with school districts during the school year.

Sharing stories from role models, such as Mary Elysse and other Girl Scout alum, is just as important as the programs they deliver. Their stories help girls realize that becoming a business owner or starting your own nonprofit is possible.

GSCCC regularly offers program delivered by Girl Scout alum who are business owners. This fall, girls will meet Christine Earl, a business owner who earned her Gold Award nearly 10 years ago. After leaving the banking industry, she started an online business, VicTreeFi, that offers financial literacy courses aimed at helping today’s kids navigate through dollars and cents. She delivers workshops for all ages and has tailored some just for Girl Scouts that were designed to meet badge requirements.

“Parents need to look long and hard at the activities they choose for their daughters,” Tracy said. “Giving girls a chance to lead only sometimes, such as is the case many times in a co-ed environment, isn’t good enough. At Girl Scouts, girls leading is the norm. Our program is for girls, by girls. Girls of all ages are encouraged to use their voices, explore subjects with female role models, and dream of limitless futures. And parents will be happy to know that nearly all our Girl Scout badge programs align with the Standards of Learning!”

Discovering Girl Scouts

GSCCC is offering parents and girls a free, one-hour webinar where they can get to know Girl Scouting and girls can do an activity to earn a We Can Build It patch. Girls in K-12 grades are invited to join a troop, group, or participate as an individual member. For older girls, there is the benefit of earning the Gold Award. Girls who earn this award create a community legacy that can translate into benefits like college scholarships or advancing a full rank (or two!) in the military. Now that’s getting ahead!
Find an assortment of virtual programs, such as Think like a Programmer, listed on the Just for Me and Events pages at www.gsccc.org. Annual membership fee for both girls and adults is $35. Financial assistance is available.

Marcy Germanotta is the director of communications and marketing for Girl Scouts of Colonial Coast. For more information, visit gsccc.org.

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