From Girl Scouts to Cyber Scouts

One of the things I find fascinating about education is how it evolves over time — sometimes in certain subjects much more rapidly than others.

Take STEM education, for instance. Some of today’s most popular postsecondary education programs in STEM have only become common fields of study in the last two decades. With new applications and areas of focus, today’s students have thousands of opportunities that didn’t exist even a few years ago.

It’s not just the rapid evolution of what is being taught, however. What I find equally fascinating is how students are learning and participating in the learning process — both in and out of the classroom.

A Girl Scouts Juniors working toward earning their robotics patches examine the 773rd Civil Support Team’s Talon IV surveying robot during a visit to an army base. Photo Credit: Lt. Col. Jefferson Wolfe.

Several months back, I wrote about the spring of innovation happening within STEM education. Individual programs and entire universities are reimagining their curriculum in ways that appeal to a wider set of potential students.

But this evolution of education isn’t just happening at the postsecondary level. It’s also taking place in community centers, at kitchen tables, and on the playgrounds of some of our country’s youngest future scientists. And, it’s taking place at your neighborhood Girl Scouts meeting.

This year marks the Girl Scouts of America’s 106th birthday. But even at that ripe old age, they haven’t stopped evolving their educational experiences and reinventing what it means to be a Girl Scout.

Gone are the days of the “Pen Pal” and “Hostess” badges–two badges that have long been retired. Today’s Girls Scouts have far more options, and they’re setting their sights far wider. Girl Scouts of the USA this year announced it would introduce 30 new badges that address what it called “some of society’s most pressing needs” by focusing on STEM and technology-related issues and advocacy for girls.

The badges will be available exclusively for girls between the ages of 5 and 18 for efforts and advocacy in cybersecurity, robotics, computer science, space exploration and the environment. Starting in kindergarten, Girl Scouts can earn separate robotics badges, for example, that focus on “programming,” “designing,” and “showcasing” robots. They can take on hacking and cybercrime as they work toward earning cybersecurity badges. They can explore, observe and investigate the universe as they work toward their space and science badge, developed in partnership with NASA.

This new set of badges are part of a continued effort by the Girl Scouts in recent years to help boost interest and participation in fields where women are traditionally underrepresented. Because, as the Girls Scouts of America say themselves, “Girls are natural-born scientists!”

Keeping girls excited about STEM, and the wonderful career paths they can pursue, is crucial to maintaining their passion for it later in life. At ABET, we know how much that matters.

A 2018 STEM study by Microsoft found that girls often lose interest in STEM subjects because of peer pressure, gender bias in teaching, a lack of mentors or parental encouragement, and misconceptions that girls are “worse” at STEM subjects than boys.

ABET accreditation focuses on programs that produce graduates who are prepared to enter the global workforce in applied and natural sciences, computing, engineering and engineering technology professions. To succeed in these professions, students must be curious, and they must be prepared to thrive in challenging environments — but they’ll never have a chance to thrive if they don’t believe they belong there.

Inside AND outside of the classroom, and at every level of education, our collective duty to continue breaking down gender divides so young students fascinated by STEM subjects today — in scouting or otherwise — can become the brilliant scientists and engineers of tomorrow. Whether that’s part of the Girl Scout Promise or not, I know for sure that it’s a promise worth keeping.

Executive Director & CEO of ABET, the global accreditor of college and university programs in the STEM disciplines.

Executive Director & CEO of ABET, the global accreditor of college and university programs in the STEM disciplines.