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A Partnership for the Future: Girl Scouts and SDSC

Rozeanne Steckler
Mike Bailey

F or a variety of cultural, economic, and family reasons, many girls have a limited concept of what being a scientist means and what it takes to become one. SDSC scientists Rozeanne Steckler and Mike Bailey, with the help of the San Diego-Imperial Girl Scout Council, are working to help girls--especially minority girls--overcome the many obstacles they face in education, with the goal of getting them interested in science and expanding their educational horizons and opportunities. The Girl Scouts have goals similar to those of SDSC in math, science, and technology education. Because gender equity is an important issue, Steckler hopes that working together will accomplish much more than either SDSC or the Girl Scouts can do alone.




Figure 1. Girl Scout Badge Day
Participants in the Computer Badge Day for Girl Scouts in grades 4–6 run the SDSC-developed Shapes program--which allows them to design mobile, 3-D scenes--in the SDSC SGI Training Room. Shapes has recently been improved and will be released as both PC and Mac versions, as well as appearing on the EnVision, Explore, Engage CD-ROM.
"The Girl Scouts has the girls, and SDSC has the technical expertise," Steckler said. This partnership has expanded to include the San Diego Unified School District and, as of Fall 2000, the San Jacinto Girl Scout Council in Houston, Texas. Thousands of youths from all ethnicities now participate in SDSC-led programs throughout San Diego and soon throughout Houston.
"The opportunity to expand this program to a city such as Houston is very exciting. Many of the societal issues San Diego faces are the same in Houston. It will be very interesting to see if our solution can help address the problems in Houston," Steckler said.


The SDSC Science Enrichment Program was born when SDSC first joined forces with the San Diego-Imperial Girl Scout Council in 1989. The program aims not only to support science and technology education, but also to get young people excited about the opportunities available to them. The program's success is evidenced by the Institutional Award for educational service, which SDSC recently received from the San Diego Science Alliance. In 1999, Steckler and Bailey won an award from UC San Diego CONNECT's Athena program for their contributions to local educational programs. CONNECT is part of the Division of Extended Studies and Public Service at UC San Diego, whose mission is to link high tech and biotech entrepreneurs with the resources they need for success--money, markets, management, partners, support services, technology, and government. Athena is a networking program for executive women in technology industries.

In May 2000, the San Diego-Imperial Girl Scout Council presented its Spirit Award to Steckler and Bailey for their outstanding support in bringing science and technology to young girls who participate in Girl Scout programs and for their dedication to bridging the gap between technology and females who are not always exposed to science. Steckler and Bailey have also been recognized on three other occasions by the San Diego-Imperial Girl Scout Council for their work in science education and outreach.

The Girl Scout Science Interest Group was the first collaboration between the Girl Scout Council and SDSC. This experience led to an understanding of the obstacles faced by young women who are interested in science, such as gender equity issues and competing with boys for computer time. "The group provides an atmosphere where being intelligent in science and engineering doesn't label a girl as an outcast," Steckler said. "If nothing else, it acts as a support group for people who are good at science and math."

The Science Interest Group is supported by SDSC and fundraising. The San Diego countywide membership currently includes about 15 girls in grades 7–12 at 10 schools throughout San Diego County. Steckler and Bailey are the instructors and leaders of this program. Activities include listening to guest speakers, going on field trips, visiting colleges, performing experiments, having social time, expanding one's computer experience, and participating in Badge Days. The hands-on experiments are girl-planned and directed, with enrichment across all scientific fields.

"The emphasis is on making the girls comfortable with scientific and engineering apparatus," Steckler said. The guest speakers, also girl-planned, lecture on topics such as science, engineering, careers, and college, with an emphasis on finding female role models. The girl-planned field trips include excursions to places like the zoo, museums, laboratories, and wilderness areas, with more extended trips--usually a week--in the summer.

The impact of the Girl Scout Science Interest Group on its members is perhaps most visible in what becomes of the girls later on in life. Most go to college and many go on to graduate school, at institutions such as Stanford, UC Berkeley, Wellesley, MIT, UC San Diego, Indiana University, and the University of Arizona.

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The Cadettes and Seniors in the Girl Scout Science Interest Group teach workshops at the Computer Badge Day, which is held twice a year at SDSC for Junior Girl Scouts in grades 4-6 (Figure 1). "Teaching forces the girls to really learn all aspects of computing," Steckler said. "Since the Science Interest Group meets at SDSC, these girls get very good at what they do here. They work with PCs, and 3-D graphics, and they are very familiar with the facilities."

Because many girls do not have access to computers, SDSC has stepped in to fill the computing gap. The girls get access to several computer labs with software far more sophisticated than that which is typically available on home PCs, at school computer labs, or in libraries. About 80 girls spend most of a Saturday at SDSC and gain hands-on experience on Windows NT and SGI UNIX workstations while familiarizing themselves with the uses and parts of computers. In addition, they learn about careers in computer science and tour the SDSC facility. At the end of the day, each girl will have earned her Junior Girl Scout Computer Badge.

"It was really cool," said one participant of her first hands-on experience with computers. "I never thought that computers were so much fun!"

The computer badge, which the Junior Girl Scouts receive after completion of activities on Computer Badge Day at SDSC, contains the binary digits representing the numbers 7 and 19. These numbers correspond to the letters G and S (7th and 19th in the alphabet, respectively) in "Girl Scouts."

"Beyond earning the badge, the girls learn new things that they don't get in school," Bailey said. "And there are no boys around to compete with, like there are at school or sometimes at home. Somewhat surprisingly, that makes a huge difference--boys tend to be aggressive about their computer time."

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Figure 2. Girls Are GREAT
Three girls use a laptop computer in the Girls Are GREAT program at their school. Girls Are GREAT provides laptops for the program because many of the participating schools do not have computer facilities. Through Girls Are GREAT the girls are exposed to experiences they probably would not otherwise get at their schools.


The Science Interest Group, aimed at girls in grades 7–12, was the impetus for other enrichment programs at SDSC, such as Girls Are GREAT, which was founded in 1997 and is aimed at minority girls in grades 2–8 (Figure 2). Funded by the National Science Foundation and supported by SDSC and the San Diego-Imperial Girl Scout Council, the Girls Are GREAT program has about 5,200 girls participating from throughout San Diego County. The target population is minority girls in the inner city and border communities. The Girl Scout Council has the benefit of having a relationship with the schools and staff to deliver the program during the school day.

Girls Are GREAT has 15 paid staff participants. The staff works with girls on math and science at the girls' school sites. SDSC is involved with curriculum development, equipment acquisition, training Girl Scout staff, Family Science Nights to get parental involvement (Figure 3), and summer day camps designed to expose girls to the university campus environment. Girl Scout responsibilities consist of having the Girl Scout staff teach the girls (bilingual) on a weekly basis either during or after school, providing feedback to SDSC on the curricula, and developing in-house expertise on each curriculum module so that the program can become self-supporting.

The curriculum guidelines are aligned with national standards and are completely self-contained (no classroom resources are used). Each lesson takes 50 minutes, with fail-safe, hands-on inquiry. The curriculum consists of subjects in the computer, Earth, life, and physical sciences. Lesson topics range from computer simulations of a national park to fossils to DNA to solar energy.

"In a partnership for the future, successful girls will later become successful women," Steckler said. "The idea is to open a world for girls and enable them to reach for their dreams by exposing them to science and adding to their knowledge base, as well as to sustain and advance girls' interest in science with a special emphasis on minority girls. They key is to foster scientific curiosity in all children." --AV *

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Figure 3. Family Science Night
A Girls Are GREAT student at a Family Science Night at SDSC has fun with a microscope. When asked what she thought about the event, she smiled broadly and hugged the microscope. Steckler and Bailey work with the Girl Scouts to set up the Girls Are GREAT science equipment at a school, usually on a Friday evening, and invite girls and their families. Attendance is "brisk," according to Bailey, "always more than 100 girls plus families."