Get A Sneak Peek Inside the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas' Soon-to-Open STEM Center of Excellence


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Korri Kezar, Dallas Business Journal

A 92-acre campus designed to teach science, technology, engineering and math skills will help the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas reach more than 4,000 girls from kindergarten to 12th grade each year.

The STEM Center of Excellence at Camp Whispering Cedars is set to open May 5 at 6010 Whispering Cedar Drive in Dallas. Backed by $14 million in contributions from individual, foundation and corporate donors, the camp includes program areas; an observation tower; natural, tree and geology trails; hands-on exhibits; an archery range; a ropes course; a sports field; a space exploration center; a soundscape; a courtyard; a butterfly pavilion and garden; an aquatics center; an innovation center; an amphitheater; and other training space.

Ericsson has also built an extensive fiber network across the campus.

Each of the camp’s amenities has a STEM-related tie. For example, the ropes course will be used with physics curriculum, while the archery range will be used to teach Girl Scouts about motion and energy.

“The center was designed to be two things: fun and STEM,” Jennifer Bartkowski, CEO of GSNETX, told the Dallas Business Journal.

The organization decided to build Camp Whispering Cedars after examining the demand for STEM skills in the workforce. Over the next decade, an estimated 1 million STEM-related jobs will need to be filled, paying more than 33 percent than jobs outside of STEM fields.

“If we don’t prepare girls now for these jobs, they will miss out on these opportunities to reach their full potential for themselves and our community,” Bartkowski added.

She told the DBJ more about the camp and its goals.

Why did Girl Scouts want to build a center over offering training in schools, libraries and other facilities?

Camp Whispering Cedars became the location for the STEM Center of Excellence for three reasons. First, the proximity of the camp makes it easy to access for more than 18,000 Girl Scouts and 40,000 at-risk, low income girls in South Dallas. This urban property can be reached easily within an hour’s drive.

Second, the 92-acre camp is an ungroomed, outdoor space. North Texas has amazing facilities, but few that have 92 acres of pure nature. With this being the first generation of kids to grow up almost entirely indoors, having a safe space where girls can access nature and the out of doors is a benefit that is important to us and our community.

Finally, Texas Instruments came to us in 2010 and suggested that North Texas had a crisis looming: There were not enough engineers in the workforce pipeline. They asked us to explore how we, the largest girl serving organization in North Texas, could make more of our girls consider a career in engineering. With that challenge, we embraced the camp environment and began investing to transform it into a 21st century STEM center.

Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas also serves girls who will never come to camp. Our STEM outreach to all 26,000 girls throughout our council has been elevated with the development of the STEM Center and the creation of new STEM and outdoor badges.

Who will teach at the center?

The center is first and foremost a space for our volunteers to make STEM come alive. More than 85 percent of our girls are served by a volunteer troop leader, so we wanted the camp to be a welcoming space where non-STEM professionals can grab a toolkit and digital curriculum and make STEM come alive for our girls, especially those in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Once our girls get a little older, we rely on our partners – STEM experts – to co-deliver our programming so we have ensured that the camp (has) the facilities and technology to support more sophisticated workshops and immersive experiences.

Our Girl Scout staff delivers robust programming on weekends and all summer long throughout the camp utilizing our national program portfolio and the full extent of our facilities and amenities. And school districts utilize the space for field trips during the week, in partnership with our council staff and expert community partners.

How will the Girl Scouts’ STEM offerings help get more females into STEM fields and jobs?

The Girl Scout formula starts with helping girls develop their STEM identities as early as second grade by giving girls diverse STEM experiences starting in kindergarten. With a focus on building a girl’s confidence, comfort with risk and critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, all in a girl-only space where programs are girl-led, hands-on and collaborative, Girl Scouts get a strong foundation for sticking with STEM education and career. To that, we add STEM experts who help make STEM programming and curriculum come alive.

Finally, we know that girls can’t be what they can’t see, so we make sure that girls have access to STEM mentors so that they can see a STEM professional and their journey to where they are today.

Why is it important to have more females in STEM roles?

Currently, the talent pipeline for STEM jobs is not growing at a rate to meet industry demands. In fact, some argue that by 2020 there may not be enough engineers to hire in North Texas. We need more women in STEM to help fill the labor pipeline and in doing so help close the gender wage gap. Women in STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than comparable women in other jobs, which means that more women in STEM means more women making more money, which is good for everyone. In addition, we need more women in STEM to design the future. Without that inclusivity in design, future tools, products, and solutions will not serve the needs of our diverse population.

Why is it important for Dallas in particular to offer this center and these programs?

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, women only hold 23 percent of all STEM jobs. As Dallas continues to grow as a hub for STEM related jobs, we want to make sure women are a part of that growth. In addition, Dallas is a hub for generosity and innovation. The STEM Center of Excellence is a model for the Girl Scout movement and I believe that new ideas can flourish in Dallas because the community is willing to think big and invest in ideas.

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