Wisdom//

America, Meet Your STEM Superheroes Of the Future: Girls

As an organization, we pride ourselves on “moving at the speed of girls”―and our troops have been very vocal about their interest in STEM.

The phenomenon is undeniable: technology is being powered at light speed by the imagination of today’s youth. And girls are integral participants in this ever-evolving cyber revolution.

Girls are growing up in a world of mobile phones and self-driving cars. Fueled by the allure of social media, they are immersed in, use, and are consumed by technology—and yet, a shockingly low percentage grow up to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. This runs counter to recent findings, which reveal that girls are quite interested in STEM topics.

Indeed, a woman’s interest in STEM-related fields develops at a young age, playing with toys, developing her creativity, and using her imagination. And most girls love hands-on science and creative problem-solving, such as making things, writing code and building robots—but when asked, very few envisioned a STEM job in their future.

For the U.S. to maintain its standing as a formidable world leader in an increasingly competitive global landscape, we need more women in STEM. In a recent study conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs within the computer realm alone are projected to increase by 12.5 percent from 2014 to 2024, resulting in an estimated 500,000 new jobs. Given the rate of future STEM-sector growth, there exists a great sense of urgency to meet the impending need for strong talent―and Girl Scouts is answering this clarion call.

According to research, Girl Scouts’ programming has impressive results in developing girls’ interest in STEM. In fact, Girl Scouts are more likely than non-Girl Scouts to desire a career in STEM, as well as participate in STEM activities, like science experiments and building circuitry.

And that’s why Girl Scouts is the place for talented and ambitious young girls to start their STEM careers.

Throughout our history, dating back more than 100 years, Girl Scouts has advanced and championed the push for more females in STEM. We are the original trailblazers, offering STEM badges as early as 1913, such as Electrician, Health, and Naturalist badges. As an organization, we pride ourselves on “moving at the speed of girls”―and our troops have been very vocal about their interest in STEM. In response, we are debuting 23 new STEM and outdoor badges, marking the largest new program rollout in almost a decade for our organization.

On the STEM front, these new badges will allow girls to design robots and racecars, try their hand at engineering, and partake in the “Maker Revolution.” Furthermore, a robust appreciation for nature is a fundamental part of embracing STEM―as well as a cornerstone of the Girl Scout experience. Whether studying photosynthesis in plants, going on camping adventures, or paddling a canoe in a lake, these outdoor adventures are fun, while serving as a stimulating connection point to girls’ interest in STEM and the great outdoors.

We are also excited to unveil a slate of Cybersecurity badges in 2018, designed to cultivate more cyber-aware citizens, as well as inspire an early interest for girls in cybersecurity careers.

These focused efforts are imperative in the early stages of girls’ educational development, before they lose interest in STEM. Even if a girl is drawn to STEM, she might let boys take the lead because she has been led to believe that “science is a boy thing.” Well, Girl Scouts is shattering the notion that STEM is just a boys’ club. Within the safe, supportive, all-girl environment of a Girl Scout troop, girls can seek challenges, explore their STEM interests, and not be afraid to confront—and overcome―failure.

According to a new Girl Scout Research Institute report, the 2017 Girl Scout Impact Study, participating in Girl Scouts helps girls develop key leadership skills necessary for success in life, with participants indicating greater achievement than non-members in such important life areas as having more confidence in themselves and their abilities (80% vs. 68%), and seeking challenges and learning from setbacks (62% vs. 42%).

Such meaningful, positive self-affirmations are elemental in pursuing the STEM path, as these qualities allow girls to embrace the intricacies and challenges of STEM with a fearless, confident and tenacious spirit. And these very capabilities—enriched by the Girl Scout experience―equipped me with the resources and courage to breakthrough and succeed in a fiercely competitive, male-dominated field.

Advancing our STEM education initiatives is a significant priority for me, not only because I am the CEO of this iconic organization, but also because of my career as a rocket scientist. As a young girl, Girl Scouts provided me with the skills and adventures that prepared me for my professional journey, and I want to ensure we equip today’s girls with the skills they need to navigate the professional landscape of tomorrow. In fact, I can confidently state that everything I have accomplished throughout my educational and professional life can be traced back to my transformational experiences as a Girl Scout.

And that is why I am such a passionate advocate for Girl Scouts and have remained involved with the organization for most of my life.

Our nation needs a workforce trained and capable to be creators—not just users―of technology. Investing in young girls is truly an investment in the future of our nation. Girl Scouts is instilling the crucial leadership training and experiences girls need—preparing them, and our nation, to effectively compete in the today’s globally competitive marketplace.

Ultimately, the STEM leadership gap in America is not a girls’ issue or a women’s issue―it’s our issue.

Sylvia Acevedo, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA), brings to the organization a background in entrepreneurship; science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); and innovation, as well as a lifelong commitment to girls’ success in their own lives and the world. She was a member of the GSUSA Board of Directors from 2009 to 2016 and served as its secretary.

Dedicated to girls’ leadership development long before she was named to GSUSA’s board, Sylvia has seen firsthand the power of Girl Scouts. As a girl growing up in New Mexico, after her family suffered a major tragedy, Sylvia was forced to move and leave behind her school, her neighborhood, and her friends. It was this move that brought her to Girl Scouts, which would change her life forever. Her troop provided her with tools and experiences not widely available to girls of her background at that time. In Sylvia’s words, “This life-changing experience showed me what leadership looked like and enabled me to pursue it as a goal.”

Over the years Sylvia has spoken across the country about the importance of helping girls discover their strengths, passions, and talents. She also served on the founding board of the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders in Austin, Texas—the largest all-girls public school in the nation.

In addition, Sylvia served as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, chairing its Early Learning Subcommittee. She coauthored the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Family Engagement curriculum to help narrow academic achievement gaps in America, and she is writing an aspirational memoir that promotes STEM for middle school students, which will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in September 2018.

A talented technology executive who has held positions with some of the world’s most respected companies, previously Sylvia was the founder, president, and CEO of CommuniCard LLC, a firm known for its innovative approaches to working with changing community demographics. Prior to that, she served in executive and business development roles at REBA Technologies, Dell Computer Corporation, Autodesk Inc., Tandem Ungermann-Bass, Apple Computer, and IBM—and she began her career as a rocket scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Sylvia has been widely recognized for her accomplishments, with honors that include the Austin Con Mi Madre Education Award (2016), Girl Scouts of Central Texas Woman of Distinction (2013), a place in U.S. News & World Report’s list of the top 100 American women in STEM (2012), the Ohtli Award from the federal government of Mexico, a national civil rights award (2011), the Austin Community Foundation’s STAR Award (2010), NMSU College of Engineering Distinguished Alumna (2010), the Austin American-Statesman’s Austin Hero Award (2009), the Austin Business Chamber of Commerce’s Star of Texas Award (2007), and U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Businesswoman of the Year (2004).

Sylvia was one of the first Hispanic students, male or female, to earn a graduate engineering degree from Stanford University—an MS in industrial engineering—and she holds a bachelor of science degree with honors in industrial engineering from New Mexico State University. 

To learn more about how Girl Scouts transforms today’s girls into tomorrow’s leaders, as well as volunteer, reconnect, donate, or join, visit www.girlscouts.org.

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