Wednesday April 23rd 2014

Outreach Observations December

STEM, SWE and Girl Scouts

Last month we held two successful engineering badge workshops for Junior Girl Scouts in Connecticut and Rhode Island. If you follow our outreach events, then you may remember we alternate between a GSUSA engineering badge called Making It Matter and the one we did this year, an Oregon-SW Washington Council’s Own engineering badge called Society of Women Engineers. (Created by a local SWE section working with that council.)

We had 50 girls attend the Connecticut workshop, and might have had more if the late October snowstorm had not interrupted power and caused problems on the roads. The workshop in Rhode Island had 85 girls attend out of the 98 registered, which is a great percentage! The numbers (as well as their feedback from the workshop evaluations) indicate that girls like and want to participate in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) activities.

Which leads me to wonder why the great STEM initiative that GSUSA had for the past decade has now gone by the wayside. This is a big year for GSUSA. March 12, 2012 marks the 100th birthday of the organization, and they have revised their whole program this year in all age levels from Daisies up to Ambassadors – including the badges. All the badges have been discontinued, and they have created brand new ones in four tracks. When I looked at the new badges Juniors could earn, I did not see any science badges that could be used in a workshop. There are only a couple that I viewed as being “science” and were in the “Skill Building” track; and even then, they are not using as much science as those GSUSA used to have. The only ones in “math” are those now in the “Financial Literacy” or “Cookie Business” tracks. The same thing can be said for the older girl and Brownie awards. Only a couple of “science” ones in each.

When I was the co-Chair of the national SWE Girl Scout Group, I put science and math badge workshops on the SWE website (under Resources in Girl Scouting in My Communities) so other sections could run them for their local GS councils. Now all those badges are discontinued, and there are no new ones to take their place. Fortunately, the one we ran this year is still going to be continued by the Oregon-SW Washington Council “as long as people still buy it”. Which I’m sure will happen as long as there are SWE sections running GS workshops! (The SWE badge workshop is one of those on the SWE website.) I informed the SWE Outreach and Program Chairs of the new GS program changes, and asked them what SWE’s role was now that GSUSA has “softened” STEM in their new program. Neither had an answer for me, except that the GSUSA STEM Project Manager position is no more – which verified my thoughts about where GSUSA is going in their new program. Not the way it should be, in my opinion – and, from the numbers and feedback of the girls attending our workshops, in the girls’ opinions as well.

This country needs more people working in STEM careers in order to be globally competitive. We can’t do that if young people don’t have role models or opportunities to try STEM activities in a fun learning environment like our workshops. SWE has had a Memorandum of Understanding since 2001 with GSUSA. SWE and GSUSA have similar goals: GSUSA “builds girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place”; SWE empowers women to “aspire, advance and achieve” to make a difference in the world. Both organizations acknowledge that girls need role models. So it is strange that GSUSA has changed their program so extensively in such a different direction.

Despite the new GS program perspective, SWE-NESS is going to continue to hold STEM workshops for Girl Scouts. Thanks to an email from Kim Cipolla who is a member of the American Physical Society (APS), Michele Fitzpatrick (also an APS member) and I are developing a new physics and engineering workshop for a K-12 grant from APS due next month. If we get the grant, we are planning on running this new workshop for the Girl Scouts in FY13. I hope to share details with you in a future article on our progress in this endeavor. Keep your fingers crossed and have a nice holiday season!

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