Thursday, February 4, 2016

How Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois Helps the Global Economy

How Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois Helps the Global Economy
An Op Ed article by Emily Stanley BS MS 
Program Manager, New Initiatives Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois

GSSI's Imagine Your STEM Future Program in East St. Louis

When I was 12, all I wanted to do was be old enough to volunteer at the Belleville Area Humane Society.  I think about half the girls in my junior high were the same – we all wanted to help people and make cute puppies and kittens better.  Today's 12 year old has the same goals for her future – to help.

I see it all the time in my job – girls who want to make a difference in the world and affect real change.  I am fortunate to have a career where I get to be around these girls who are tomorrow's leaders and encourage them.  The girls I work with are part of the Girl Scout movement, specifically the STEM initiative.  Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois has approximately 13,000 girl members who are out to change the world for the better.  My job is to help them have positive experiences that help shape their future goals and contribute to the future of the United States in the Global Economy. 

Here's why it's important to reach all youth, but particularly young women interested in STEM careers.  The US News/Raytheon STEM index in 2014 showed that STEM employment has increased more than 30 percent from 2013 to 2014.  This isn't just the PhDs and researchers.  These are jobs that require analytical reasoning and problem solving.  A USA Today special report also noted that more than 2.5 million well-paying skilled labor jobs will be created over the next several years.  In the St. Louis area, a 12.4% increase in STEM jobs is projected compared to a 9.2% increase in non-STEM jobs, according to the St Louis STEM Workforce 2014 report published by St. Louis Community College.

GSSI Girl Scouts participating in FIRST LEGO League Robotics

With this growth, we will need a skilled and motivated workforce.  That's where Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois helps.  In 2009, we started to look for funding specifically for our Robotics and STEM programs.  We received a grant from Motorola Foundation and fielded one First Lego League robotics team from a small town in rural Illinois.  These girls learned basic computer programming and engineering, but what they learned more importantly was perseverance, team work and problem solving.  From that one robotics team in 2009, we have grown the program to include 10 First Lego League robotics teams, 12 First Lego League Junior teams and one First Tech Challenge team. Working on small, all girl teams, girls take on more active leadership positions.  They try programming and engineering.  They step outside their comfort zones when speaking publicly.

Over 100 Girl Scouts in southern Illinois also participated in a Made by Me camp this past summer, where, in addition to the normal fun outdoor activities like archery, hiking and campfires, girls voted on which Maker projects to try at camp.  The Maker Movement refers to the current wave of tech inspired DIY projects.  Our girls chose a wired light picture, a custom routed phone charging station, solar powered derby cars and battery powered flashlights created from Altoid mint tins.  Girl Scouts participation and sponsorship of Maker events is particularly important – the MakeHers study by Intel found that participation in Maker and STEM activities can help girls develop skills and improve their earning potential.  The study states, "As a result, the STEM talent pool expands, fueling competition and innovation and ultimately strengthening the global economy."

GSSI Family STEM Night 

What ultimately brings success to any program is volunteers.  In 2016, you will see girls learning origami and then wiring their creations with light and movement.  You will see girls learn leadership skills while working on their best slime recipe.  This summer, we will bring another great week of STEM camp – this time the Science of Superheros – and we need volunteer help!  Come for a half day, a couple hours or all week and share your skills to encourage a young woman in STEM!  Bring your girl and watch her grow in this exciting environment and beautiful outdoor setting.

We have had a lot of success in the past 6 years and we still have much to do.  In order to continue to meet the demands of girls in our area for high quality and exciting STEM programs, we will need mentors, volunteers and donations.  So when you see that young entrepreneur asking you to buy Girl Scout Cookies, know that you are not just supporting her and her troop but also contributing to the future global competitiveness of the United States!

See what happened when GSSI FIRST TECH Challenge team Oops Robotics! paired Girl Scout Cookies with their design & programming power!