Skip to content


Girls are GREAT Program Expands to Texas

Reaching Tens of Thousands
Frogs Make Big Splash

he idea of studying math and science and eventually becoming a scientist–any kind of scientist–is a strange and empty abstraction for many youngsters, especially young girls from minority groups that are under- represented in the scientific work force. Most have never had the chance to meet a scientist. But when they meet SDSC chemist Rozeanne Steckler or take part in one of her programs, the abstraction can fill with meaning and become a goal to reach for. Steckler’s patient and passionate work devoted to bringing youngsters, and especially young girls, into science, has grown during the past two years into a program that is touching the lives and future prospects of thousands of girls. Now a science enrichment program designed by Steckler, which has reached thousands of girls in San Diego schools, has landed in Houston, where it has already reached nearly 2,000 young girls from the second to eighth grades.

Girls are GREAT at Smythe Elementary
UCSD Chancellor Robert Dynes visited with participants in the Girls are GREAT program at Smythe Elementary in San Diego

When Steckler visited the Girl Scout Council of San Jacinto in Houston in September 2000, the Council decided to replicate the Girls are GREAT program from San Diego, in cooperation with Houston-area public schools. The program has now reached nearly 2,000 young girls in Houston, according to Gladys Birdwell, Director of Community Outreach for the Council.

Reaching Tens of Thousands

"We think this program has turned out to be one of the best ideas since Girl Scout cookies," Birdwell said. "We did the original lab module, From Caterpillar to Butterfly, in 19 different schools, and 1,805 girls attended the program, and then some or all of the other seven modules were done in various subsets of the schools."

Girls are GREAT started in 1997, when the San Diego-Imperial County Girl Scout Council began offering the program during the school day to girls in county schools that were underrepresented in Girl Scouting. Since these are the same schools with majority populations underrepresented in science altogether, Steckler’s collaboration, introducing new curriculum in the form of lab modules, was able to reach 5,200 girls in grades 2—8 in San Diego County in 1999—2000. In addition to weekly sessions during or after school, the Girl Scout facilitators bring the students to special Family Science nights hosted at SDSC. Steckler also runs a week-long summer day camp for the students. Karyl O’Brien of the Council estimates that the program has now reached some 10,000 young girls in the two large Southern California counties.

Steckler, a computational chemist who also pursues a full research program in computational chemistry, originated the SDSC Science Enrichment Program in 1987, with a Science Interest Group for Girl Scouts. Since then, she has worked to broaden the reach of the program and to include underrepresented minorities. Her main collaborator has been fellow SDSC scientist Michael J. Bailey, and many other SDSC staff members have helped with the overall development. "Our goal has been to open a world for underrepresented youth, especially young women and members of ethnic minorities, to enable them to reach for their dreams by exposing them to science and adding to their knowledge base," Steckler said.

Frogs Make Big Splash

"TheGirls are GREAT curriculum is aligned with national standards," Steckler said, "and it is completely self-contained–no classroom resources are used." The modules are designed to bring the students through 50 minutes of hands-on inquiry in Earth science, life sciences, and basic physical science. Steckler set up curriculum training units for the Girls are GREAT staff, who are employed by the Girl Scout Council, and concentrated on making the staff members independently responsible for the curriculum units and materials. The staff is made up of both college students majoring in science or education and women who were teachers in Mexico before coming to the United States.

The Girls are GREAT program was partly supported by the National Science Foundation. A new partnership, the Middle School Program, also under NSF funding, has been inaugurated with the San Diego City Schools. Focused on girls and boys in the sixth to eighth grades, this program is also growing. -MM

Principal Investigators
Rozeanne Steckler
Michael J. Bailey