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Breaking Down Barriers: Girls in STEM


At Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois, we believe an  all-girl, girl-led, environment impacts change every day within the lives of the girls we serve - for example, within our science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program.

A  2016 study from the Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI)found that  81 percent of robotics evaluation participants agreed that because of Girl Scouts, they've been a leader in more activities with friends, classmates or in their community, and 86 percent of evaluation participants from GSUSA's Journey and Connect Through Technology program agreed that Girl Scouts prepared them to be a leader.

Girl Scout of Southern Illinois STEM Manager, Emily Stanley, says that she's seen first-hand, specifically with robotics, how helping build girls' confidence through hands-on experience makes a difference.

"Personally, I've seen it up close that when an organization hosts a coed  robotics team, girls are almost always designated as the secretary or the researcher," says Stanley. "They very rarely get to be on the table doing the hands on programming. When we see single gender environments, that's when we're able to really see girls take the lead because there's no mentally pre-assigned gender roles. Girls really get to explore their strengths."

Girl Scouts' unique approach to getting girls engaged in STEM is grounded in the Girl Scout Leadership Experience, which ensures that activities are girl-led, involve learning by doing and cooperative learning.

With a background in hard science, a field that is largely dominated by men, Stanley understands the importance of an all-girl, girl-led environment, and what it means to give girls opportunities to challenge themselves and their preconceived notions

"I encountered a lot of, 'you're a girl. This is what you do.' My Master's program was all men when I started," says Stanley. "So just really having to justify that I belonged there, even though I was just as bright and just as published and just as well researched; it was one of those things that always drives me to teach girls that they belong there because they're interested and because they're good at it."

GSSI's Robotics Program began in 2009 with a single team of 10 girls. Today, the program serves 30 different teams across 40 ½ counties in Southern Illinois. The girls from the original GSSI robotics team, the "Techie Ten," went on to pursue STEM degrees and careers in fields such as speech pathology, biomedical engineering, audio engineering, pediatrics, veterinary medicine, computer science, physics, and astrophysics.

Participation in  STEM programming encourages girls to dive into a vast array of career fields dominated by their male counterpart without being intimidated by the gender gap. According to a recent  GSRI study, 77 percent of girls say that, because of Girl Scouts, they are considering a career in technology.

Ashley Dryden, one of the "Techie Ten," agreed most definitely that Girl Scouts altered her perception of women in STEM. "It made me think that women in STEM is a normal every day thing," says Dryden. "It taught me personally that we can fit in there and do just as well as men."