Admittedly, some of the first things that come to mind when we hear ‘Girl Scouts’ are Thin Mints, Tagalongs, and Shortbreads. But Girl Scouts of the USA is aiming to change that with the addition of 23 new badges focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
“Girls are able to learn about STEM in a safe place,” said STEM specialist for Girl Scouts of Central Maryland (GSCM) Stephanie Alphee. “We’re helping to break those stereotypes for girls who want to learn more about careers they can get into.”
STEM programming is nothing new to Girl Scouts, but it became a major initiative for GSCM when Northrop Grumman sponsored and funded the addition of a STEM lab at the Central Maryland location. Since then, all girls from the tiniest Daises to teen Ambassadors have been working on projects that concentrate on developing skills in science and technology like designing robotic arms, learning the chemical properties of slime, and creating solar ovens that can cook s'mores.
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“We are trying to appeal to girls in the way that they learn the various fields by integrating art,” Alphee explained. “Girls like to be creative, so teaching STEM in a way that appeals to them is really important.”
Many of the STEM badges were requested by scouts based on their interests and future goals. With badges like ‘roller coaster design’ and ‘think like a programmer,’ the girls are introduced to a world of robotics and engineering that help with everyday problem solving skills. Seven-year-old Brownie Cayla Hicks, who plans to be a scientist, says the addition of the STEM badges gives her an extra push.
“I’m trying to get the ‘designing robots’ badge,” Hicks said. “I like building things and discovering new things.”
Learning about STEM programming is just one layer of the new venture—the Girl Scouts have partnered with professionals in the field as another added benefit of the platform.
“One of our big initiatives is to place STEM role models right in front of the girls, Alphee said. “We bring in women who are engineers or astronauts that bring that extra inspiration to them and really try to develop that interest at a young age. Having mentors and supporters to keep you on that pipeline is important.”
In conjunction with the new badges, GSCM also participates in an annual festival that combines STEM with art to open up even more career opportunities, like graphic design and architecture. During this festival, parents meet with professionals in the field and learn ways that the girls can nurture their interests at home.
The addition of the STEM badges is just the first step in Girl Scouts' mission to more fully enrich young girls’ minds. Next year, the group will launch a new initiative that will allow the girls to earn “cyber security” badges expand opportunities for the girls to break into fields that are currently male-dominated.
“We are an interest building organization, we’re a skill development organization, and we’re an inspirational organization for girls,” Alphee said. “We really do focus on those pillars of building girls with courage, confidence, and character.”