Girl Scouts Take STEM on the Road

Sacramento Region, CA (MPG)  |  Story and photos by Shaunna Boyd
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The Mobile STEM Center + MakerSpace will serve underserved girl scouts in the Heart of Central California council. Photo provided by Girl Scouts Heart of Central California

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Kaitlyn Williams practices her engineering skills at the marble machine in the Sacramento STEM Center + MakerSpace.

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - Far too many girls in this country are unable to see themselves working in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, but Girl Scouts is working to change that. “There’s been a big investment nationally in STEM,” explained Beth Peters, Girl Scouts Heart of Central California (GSHCC) STEM initiatives manager. “The national CEO [Sylvia Acevedo] is a rocket scientist, so she’s very invested in computer science. She got into science because of Girl Scouts, so she wants other girls to have that opportunity.”

The GSHCC council successfully opened two STEM Centers + MakerSpaces, one in Sacramento and another in Modesto. Peters said the Sacramento space served 1,400 girls in the first year and 2,400 girls so far this year. “It’s growing rapidly,” said Peters, “and it’s not just limited to STEM centers. Girls are doing projects with their troops, with their troop leaders, doing it on their own, they’re taking more classes… girls are getting more involved, for sure, which is really exciting.”

GSHCC has 18,000 girls in their council, which serves 18 counties. Everywhere “between Yuba City down to Merced, from Tracy to Truckee, so it’s a very big section of the Central Valley,” said Peters. “It’s just not feasible for people to be able to get to the MakerSpaces on a regular basis.” To expand on the success of the STEM Centers and reach more girls, GSHCC just launched a Mobile STEM Center + MakerSpace. “We decided to take everything good about these spaces and put it on wheels so we can take it to them,” said Peters.

Medha Aiyah, a Gold Award girl scout, was part of the GIRL (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk taker, and Leader) Task Force, and she helped design and implement the STEM Center + MakerSpace. Aiyah just finished her freshman year at the University of Texas at Dallas where she is majoring in computer science. “I love coming back,” said Aiyah, “especially seeing the growth of what Girl Scouts here have done promoting girls in STEM. It’s amazing, and the Mobile STEM MakerSpace is so cool because you can take STEM on the road and bring it to so many girls.”

Aiyah said, “When I took my first computer science classes in high school, there weren’t as many girls as I expected. I thought, ‘We have the same mind and the same capability to do what guys can do, why are there less girls in this field?’ So it’s really important to encourage girls, to tell them, ‘You have power, and you can shine bright in these fields.’”

The Mobile STEM Center will travel to troops and Title I schools throughout the region to reach underserved girl scouts, especially those living in outlying areas. GSHCC will rotate the curriculum to offer a variety of options including engineering, robotics, programming, virtual reality, energy and space science, cyber security, agricultural science, and forensics.

Peters said that GSHCC also works with local partners in the region to help connect girls to STEM resources that already exist in their communities, and they “hope that the Mobile STEM Center will be a magnet for that.”

At a launch party for the Mobile STEM Center on June 18, attendees commended the initiative. Powerhouse Science Center deputy engineer Rita Hoffstadt and executive board of directors’ member Judith Kielstrom admired the MakersSpace and said they look forward to partnering with GSHCC. Kielstrom said, “It takes a village to raise a young scientist.”

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg supports GSHCC’s STEM initiative, noting the importance of creating pathways for young girls into these fields as the area increases its technological impact: “Sacramento is booming…. We’re building a modern economy.” Mayor Steinberg wants Sacramento to be a national leader in ensuring young women’s involvement in STEM, and he offered this advice to young women: “Live your dreams. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.”

Girl Scouts serves girls in grades K – 12 and girls can join at any time. Visit www.girlscouts.org for more information.

The Mobile STEM Center + MakerSpace will serve underserved girl scouts in the Heart of Central California council. Photo provided by Girl Scouts Heart of Central California Kaitlyn Williams practices her engineering skills at the marble machine in the Sacramento STEM Center + MakerSpace. Left to right: Gold Award girl scout Medha Aiyah and GSHCC STEM initiatives manager Beth Peter celebrate the launch of the new Mobile STEM Center + MakerSpace.Girl Scouts (left to right) Charlotte French and Phoenix Pham are both interested in 3D printing and forensics, explaining that they like to find clues and solve puzzles. The STEM Centers + MakerSpaces encourage girl scouts to explore their interests in science, technology, engineering, and math.