Iolani Connolly, Dallas Morning News
Girl Scouts of the United States of America recently announced 30 new science and technology-focused badges aimed at building skills and fostering leadership in STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
These new STEM badges in areas such as robotics, mechanical engineering, cybersecurity and space sciences are a critical addition to the Girl Scout program and may be a game-changer for the girls who complete them.
In early elementary school, girls often express strong interest and aptitude in science and math. At the University of Texas at Dallas alone, more than 1,200 Girl Scouts each year attend STEM programs, including the annual Explore Engineering Day. Such exposure to science and math early and often is key to positioning girls for long-term success in both academics and the workforce.
By middle school, however, many girls lose interest. Some studies suggest that this loss of interest is due in large part to the fact that girls do not understand the connection between what they are learning in school and our everyday lives.
The Girl Scouts' STEM badges offer girls the opportunity to connect the fundamental skills they learn in science and math class to real-world problems. In this way, girls create new meaning from their experiences. They come to realize how to use their smart and creative brains to improve the human condition through science and math.
This is particularly true when girls have the chance to see how science and math skills support the work that engineers and computer scientists do. Engineering and computer science are among the highest paid, fastest growing professions of our time, and there simply aren't enough people, particularly women, to fill the jobs now and in the foreseeable future.
Research shows that when girls better understand the positive impact that engineers and computer scientists have, they are up to 11 times more likely to want to be an engineer or computer scientist. In fact, interest in 8th grade may be emerging as one of the best predictors of whether a child will ultimately enter a STEM field. That desire can fuel the persistence needed to successfully complete a degree and enter one of these fields.
Participation in engineering and programming challenges, like those offered through the Girl Scout badges, can move the dial on a girl's career interest. It's wonderful to see Girl Scouts embracing STEM in a big way.