DECATUR – Girl Scouts has offered STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programming for girls for the past few years. Now, the organization is expanding its effort even more.
“We know girls can't be what they can't see,” said Pam Kovacevich, CEO of Girls Scouts of Central Illinois. “They don't often see examples of strong women in STEM fields. We know they're out there, but until they're exposed to them, they may not envision themselves in a similar role.”
To correct that, the council has assembled its first STEM Advisory Council, made up of more than 20 women in the program's core fields of study. The council includes representatives of Caterpillar Inc., State Farm, Ameren and the Society of Women Engineers-Central Illinois to act as role models and help create curriculum to allow girls to explore STEM.
The effort began about six months ago, Kovacevich said. STEM activities will begin in earnest in November. Girl Scouts USA is putting a greater emphasis on STEM nationally as well. Thirty new badges have been created in STEM categories that include plenty of the outdoor activities that the organization is known for, such as soil studies and conservation.
“The new badges make learning STEM fun,” Kovacevich said. “If you're going to work every day, you might as well enjoy what you're doing. We want to introduce girls to the idea that STEM is not scary. It can be fun.”
Studies have shown that girls often begin their school years with an interest in math and science, but many girls' interest wanes by the intermediate grades, which is part of the reason fewer young women pursue STEM careers than young men. Girl Scouts hopes to keep that interest alive, Kovacevich said.
Planned activities include workshops, site visits, specialty programs and a large group activity on Nov. 9 at the Children's Museum of Illinois.
Of the women on the STEM Advisory Council, some are former Girl Scouts, some are troop leaders and some have no previous connection to Scouts at all, Kovacevich said. The one unifying aspect for all the advisers is their interest in encouraging girls with an interest in STEM.
One of those advisers is Juanita Morris, who began Girls Who Code and the Summer Math Academy in Decatur schools.
“I'm super excited because it ticks off a couple of buttons for me,” Morris said. “It focuses on girls and it also focuses on that STEM area and trying to get young ladies more active, more aware and more involved.”
In the Summer Math Academy, Morris said, students were separated by gender, and she did that because of studies that show girls often do better in math classes that are all girls.
“STEM is the underlying current in everything we do,” Morris said. “Part of this piece with the Girl Scouts is to bring awareness. Girls are more than capable of accomplishing and achieving and kicking butt.”