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Girl Scouts San Diego Raises a Generation of STEMinists
By Annelise Jolley
In STEM careers—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—the workforce gender gap is particularly acute. Women make up just 35% of students enrolled in higher education STEM studies, and only a little over a quarter of the world’s researchers are female.
Girl Scouts is closing this gap by igniting and sustaining girls’ interest in STEM careers. “There’s a lot of research that shows the significant drop-off of STEM interest in girls,” says Carol Dedrich, Chief Executive Officer at Girl Scouts San Diego. “A big one is from fifth and sixth grade and [again from] eighth and ninth grade. Sparking our girls’ interest is so important, even before those ages. If we can get them interested in STEM in kindergarten, they’re going to maintain it throughout the years.”
Girl Scouts San Diego has taken the Girl Scout STEM Pledge, a nationwide initiative to provide girls with STEM learning opportunities and equip them for careers in these fields. The organization is on a mission to empower its troops and fill San Diego’s workforce pipeline. By helping girls see themselves as technical managers, data scientists, software engineers, security analysts, and app designers, Girl Scouts hopes to open their futures.
Research conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute has found that girls who participate in girl-focused STEM programs become better problem-solvers, critical thinkers, and inspirational leaders. The confidence and knowledge they receive in their troops transfer to school and, eventually, the workforce: girls in STEM programs achieve better grades, earn scholarships, and follow more lucrative career paths.
Visit sdgirlscouts.org to learn more about how Girl Scouts San Diego is raising a generation of STEMinists.
In short, they become exactly the kind of leaders any community would want. San Diego’s career landscape is growing increasingly more focused on biotech, technology, and medical research positions. This means more high-potential jobs for both men and women—and Girl Scouts is preparing girls to land them. “We want to keep the San Diego workforce in San Diego and from San Diego, and we want them to be women,” Dedrich says. “We want to invest in the girls so that they can be our workforce.”
Girl Scouts of all ages can participate in STEM programming through various formats, including short-term series, camps, career exploration workshops, one-day events and conferences, and through an outreach program that serves under-resourced communities. The goal is to make STEM learning and careers reachable. In San Diego, this means all 23,000 girls in Girl Scouts will have access to council-wide STEM activities, regardless of their location or socioeconomic status.
In the STEM program, a Girl Scout can learn about innovation, prototyping, and the basics of coding. She might create an app with other girls to help solve a community issue like homelessness. She can earn her way through 36 STEM-focused badges, such as Digital Art badges—which help build technology skills, from movie making to website design—and Financial Literacy badges, which prepare girls to save money, invest wisely, and give to others.
According to the Girl Scout Research Institute, many girls feel that STEM studies aren’t a typical career path for females. That’s why Girl Scouts’ STEM programming includes opportunities for troops to meet successful women in the field. When they interact with female data analysts, coders, and robotics engineers, girls are able to imagine their own futures in these careers. In Dedrich’s words, girls are meeting women “who they might want to be when they’re older.”
Another important aspect of the STEM programming is its all-girl, multi-generational learning environment. By providing an opportunity that’s entirely female, girls feel empowered to ask questions and learn about subjects that might otherwise intimidate them. And this translates back into the classroom; teachers report that Girl Scouts who have participated in STEM programs are more willing to raise their hands at school.
As they earn badges; participate in workshops; and meet women in electronics, engineering, or robotics careers; Girl Scouts throughout San Diego discover new possibilities for their futures.
“It’s a great time for Girl Scouts and STEM, and we have great new programs that are being developed,” says Dedrich.
One such program is SDG&E’s Go Electric patch program. Go Electric is designed to connect girls with opportunities for learning about electric vehicles and renewable energy. Girl Scouts meet the women behind SDG&E’s electric vehicle initiatives and get an up-close look at electric cars.
Through the Girl Scout Outreach Program, “Go Electric” reaches troops in high opportunity and lower income areas. So far, schools in City Heights and San Ysidro have participated, and Girl Scouts in each school earned “Go Electric” patches. “The best way to reach girls is to have programming that goes out to them,” says Dedrich. “For almost all of them, this was the first electric vehicle they’d seen.”
Girls who earn a “Go Electric” patch as part of Girl Scouts’ STEM initiative learn the benefits of renewable energy, inspire others to reduce their carbon footprint, and discover ways to be environmental stewards. “We’re always encouraging girls to take action to make the world a better place,” says Dedrich. “This program opens their minds to see how they can better things in their communities.”