Friday, October 2, 2015

Guest Blog: My Front Row Seat To The First Lady’s Let Girls Learn Forum

Guest post by Girl Scout Ria, who attended “The Power of the Educated Girl” at the Apollo Theater

On Tuesday, September 28, I had the privilege of attending a seminar on “The Power of the Educated Girl” at the Apollo Theater, hosted by Sophia Bush and Glamour Magazine. I was part of an audience of 1,000 girls from different girl organizations around New York. The guest speakers were First Lady Michelle Obama, actress Charlize Theron, Former Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard, and Nurfahada, a 16-year-old missionary from the Philippines. This panel of amazing women spoke to us about the importance of girls being educated.

Being in the same room as those incredible women felt like a dream. They were so inspirational and real. They spoke to us like they were speaking to their daughters. They taught us that education is one of the most important things in your life, that we have the power to succeed and we deserve a rewarding future. The more educated girls are, the better they are at resolving conflicts and supporting other religions and beliefs, and the more likely they are to have an educated family. Listening to First Lady Michelle Obama share about how she grew up, the opportunities she had, and how she fought for her education was inspiring. She told us that it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. She taught us to be true to ourselves. Charlize Theron spoke about growing up in a small town, and breaking down barriers to make a better future for the women of South Africa. Nurfahada was also so inspiring to me. She is just 16, yet she’s traveling the world, talking about young girls in the Philippines who have nothing and can’t speak for themselves.

There are so many girls around the world who don't have an education because their countries or cultures teach that only boys should be educated. The big message from this panel was that girls should be just as educated as boys, if not more. I learned that it’s equally important for girls to take control and stand up for education. Did you know that there are 62 million girls around the world who will not get an education? The “Let Girls Learn” campaign is about providing girls with the materials that they need so that they can receive an education and get opportunities in life.

I think everyone in the audience left the seminar smarter, stronger, and inspired. I also learned something about myself: I learned how lucky I am to be living in the United States, where everyone has access to an education. I also learned that by going to school and making myself a better person, I can help so many other girls around the world so we can make it a better place to live for all of us.

Thank you to Girl Scouts of Nassau County and Girl Scouts of the USA for this amazing opportunity! It was a great experience to listen to these wonderful role models and learn how strong I can be.
Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Guest Blog: National Young Woman of Distinction, Alexa Iannace Works To End Child Pornography

I earned my Gold Award by creating a documentary on child pornography and using it to spread awareness of this important issue. In order to make my documentary, I interviewed five experts—a
state police trooper who specializes in cybercrimes, a judge in the court of common pleas, an assistant district attorney, an expert psychologist, and the senior vice president and COO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
I presented my documentary to undergraduate criminal justice and social work students at DeSales, Drexel, and Marywood Universities, as well as to district attorneys through my county’s bar association for their continuing legal education credits and to the Southeast PA Cyber Crimes Taskforce, whose audience included representatives from 10 agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security. I ultimately presented the documentary to a total of 100 people, and all of them told me they learned something new.

When I started to think about what type of a Gold Award project I wanted to take on, I knew that I wanted to address an international issue. Additionally, my father is the Pennsylvania State Police trooper I interviewed in my documentary. When I was growing up my father taught me about the dangers of the Internet and about the seriousness of the child pornography problem. As far as I know, many preventative programs exist to educate students, parents, and teachers about the dangers of the Internet. However, there are no programs like mine that define the specific issue, clarify misconceptions about it, and shine a light on its magnitude and proliferation.
Unfortunately, not a lot of people understand the scope and size of the issue of child pornography because it is such a new type of crime. The truth is frightening. According to the NCMEC, someone in the victim’s circle of trust produces 54 percent of actively traded child pornography. In 2014, the NCMEC received 1.1 million “cyber tips” related to child pornography and child online exploitation. The expected number of cyber tips in 2015 is 5.2 million. Additionally, 70 percent of actively traded child pornography features victims aged from infancy through prepubescence.

When Girl Scouts of the USA told me that they named me one of the 2015 National Young Women of Distinction, I cried. I cried because it had been a big dream of mine that I never thought could become a reality. I also cried because I realized that Girl Scouts, through my national award, could provide me with a larger platform for fighting child pornography.

Why did I choose this topic for my project? Frankly, because child pornography makes me angry. And over the past couple of months, I have come to recognize that I can serve as the inspiration for other girls to take on a Gold Award project that addresses an issue that makes them angry. To any girls out there who want to earn their Gold Awards, my advice is to start with a conversation. Find someone who tells you something that changes your view of the world. Get passionate about it. Use your passion as a guide to fix the injustice that you find in your community. To quote Gandhi, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Child pornography is not something that I have forgotten or have stopped fighting against. I am currently working with professors on my own campus, American University, to see how I can best spread my message to students. In particular, I will continue the work of my Gold Award project next year as part of my sophomore social action project within American University’s Leadership Program. Additionally, I will continue to work with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on their efforts to spread awareness of this issue.

The 2015 National Young Women Of Distinction recipients will be celebrated on October 7, 2015, at Edith Macy Conference Center in Briarcliff Manor, New York. For those who can’t attend the event but still want to be a part of the conversation,  join via livestream or follow #NYWOD15 on Twitter. As part of this prestigious honor, the Kappa Delta Foundation affirms its commitment to girls by providing $50,000 in scholarships to Girl Scouts’ National Young Women of Distinction. GSUSA will be matching the Kappa Delta Foundation’s gift with an additional $50,000 in college scholarships for the ten extraordinary young women.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Girl Scouts and Peace Corps Volunteers Uniting to Make the World A Better Place

Tonight, more than 100 Girl Scouts from the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona council will pack into McClelland Hall at the University of Arizona to hear from returning Peace Corps volunteers about their life-changing experiences working in communities around the globe to make our world a better place.

This event will be co-hosted by Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet and our very own Anna Maria Chávez. The returning Peace Corps volunteers will share their experiences and insights, and answer questions from the girls in the audience.

The evening will highlight Girl Scouts’ partnership with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative, and with the Peace Corps, who are teaming up to offer Girl Scouts across the country and in over 90 countries tools, resources, and access to returning Peace Corps volunteers who can help them understand what it takes to make a global impact for girls across the world.

It’s all part of the new Girl Scout Global Action Award, a fun and educational way for girls across the country and in over 90 countries to learn about serious global issues affecting girls, young women, and their communities. Each Girl Scout who completes Global Action Award activities will join the international movement of 10 million girls who together are sowing the seeds of global social change.

Through the Peace Corps’ World Wise Schools and Speakers Match programs, Girl Scouts of all grade levels will be able to connect with Peace Corps volunteers who are working on girls’ education projects around the world. Underscoring Girl Scouts’ commitment to the First Lady’s Let Girls Learn initiative, the new Global Action badge will provide girls the opportunity to understand and address the challenges associated with—and the specific root causes of—barriers to girls’ access to education globally.

To learn more, visit our Global Action Award page now to learn how YOU can make a difference for girls’ education around the world! We are excited to announce that the new Global Action Award badge will be available in Girl Scout council shops in October 2015.

Friday, September 18, 2015

ATTENTION: Calling Every Extraordinary Girl Scout Gold Award Recipient!

Are you a recipient of the Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouting (previously known as the Golden Eagle of Merit, Golden Eaglet, Curved Bar, and First Class)? Awesome! Today, we invite you to be a part of something BIG—the upcoming Girl Scout Gold Award Alliance Directory Centennial Edition!

This historic publication celebrates the thousands of inspiring Girl Scout

alumnae who, over the last 100 years, have used their extraordinary courage, vision, and kindness to rally communities and take action to make the world a better place. History. Impact. Inspiration. It’s all in there and more! Here’s your chance to take action one more time. Join us in celebrating Girl Scouting’s highest honor.

Share your Gold Award story  

Help inspire future generations of girls to carry on the Girl Scout tradition of thinking big and creating amazing change in the community and the world.  
To submit your story for inclusion in the directory, simply call our publication partner, Harris Connect, toll free at 1-866-770-3079 (Monday–Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET). It’s going to be EPIC.

Get inspired with snippets of some of last year’s coolest stories!

 “My Gold Award project consisted of creating over one hundred bags full of books, first-aid kits, stickers, and other items for children who were waiting in the Emergency Department at my local hospital. These children were either patients or siblings/friends of patients who were asked to wait for hours at a time. Providing these items, even those as simple as stickers, gave these children a sense of comfort that, in a hospital setting, is sometimes difficult to achieve. Being able to make their hospital visit that much better made all the difference in the world to me. There is nothing more inspiring then seeing a young child smile in a difficult circumstance.”

“My senior year of high school I completed my Girl Scout Gold Award project, using the pillars of the Girl Scout mission to help me. For my project, I taught developmentally disabled children in my community how to play soccer, bringing the entire experience to them, complete with uniforms and soccer gear. I was inspired by my love and passion for soccer but also for helping and teaching, and I thought everyone should have a chance to play a sport regardless of their disabilities. I held two weekends of soccer clinics taught by myself and my closest soccer cohorts. Whether these children were unable to speak or had limited motor skills, we helped them learn how to play. My personal benefit from this award was the smiles on the children's faces as they were given the opportunity to play a sport that had not previously been offered to them in our community. This project gave me the courage to execute my ideas and the confidence in my abilities to lead others in the right direction.

“For my Gold Award project, I chose to conduct a Women's Self-Defense Seminar. I had received my Black Belt in Taekwondo in December 2006, and I wanted my project to reflect something I was passionate about. I felt this project was a perfect example of building girls AND women of courage, confidence, and character. The seminar provided the participants not only with useful information and a visit from the LAPD, but also practical skills they could use in real-life situations.  It is very important to me that women don’t find themselves becoming victims. I also requested that the participants donate personal care items that I dropped off at my local shelter for victims of domestic violence.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

ALUMNA SPOTLIGHT: Dr. Amanda Zangari

“The most valuable thing I learned in Girl Scouts,” says Dr. Amanda Zangari, “was how to do things, whether it was rolling a sleeping bag back tightly, lighting a fire, or cleaning a lantern.”

Now, as a researcher on NASA’s New Horizons mission—which you may know as the first reconnaissance mission to the dwarf planet Pluto and the Kuiper Belt—Dr. Zangari is part of a team exploring new frontiers in outer space.

But before she worked on spacecraft voyaging to the edges of the solar system, Dr. Zangari was a Girl Scout. Read on to hear her advice for budding scientists, why you should always be nice to your local Girl Scout cookie entrepreneur, and the best ways to search for stars in the night sky.

What kind of impact did Girl Scouts have on you?
Girl Scouts was something I did from kindergarten until 12th grade, and some in college. It was a great way to get together with girls of different ages/grades outside of school and sports activities. From Juniors through Cadettes I had a great leader, Cheryl Bourdony, who always had us do things for ourselves.

Did you sell cookies? If so what did you learn from the experience? 
I sold cookies every year, from Brownie to Senior. When I was in eighth grade, there was no one who wanted to be "cookie mom" for our troop, so I was "cookie kid.” (My mom helped a bit). I got to go to training with the other moms, helped pass out the cookies to fill orders, and collected the whole troop's money. I learned that sometimes adults don't meet their deadlines, which was a surprise at the time.

As an adult/Girl Scout alumna who buys cookies at booth sales, I much prefer to interact with the actual girls, rather than with adults who take the money, make the change, and pass out the cookies. Brownies can do all of that—don't do it for them!

Any camp memories you would like to share? 
I think I most enjoyed that we sang all the time. We did a lot of singing around the fire and while walking around when I went camping with my troop, but at summer camp, we also sang after meals, at flag ceremonies, and at large group evening get-togethers with the whole camp. I've gone camping with friends since Girl Scouts, but being one of a couple hundred girls all singing the same song (“Camp, Camp Hoffman!”) was an experience I never really had any other time. Outside of religious groups and saluting the flag, people don't really sing in large groups. There's something immensely beautiful and humanly satisfying about it.

What advice would you give Girl Scouts who want to pursue a career in STEM fields?
In college, it's not just your grades that will launch a STEM career, but relevant research experience (and for engineering/tech careers, internship experience). Your school and professors should be able to point you toward the right summer and school-year jobs, either through your school or a separate program. (The NSF REU program is great for the sciences!) Many of your professors are also hiring people to help them out, and experience working with them is key to [advancing] in the sciences. It will make up for less-than-stellar grades or GRE scores. So ask!

If you’re a high-schooler looking at colleges, ask about the research/internship opportunities available to students in areas you are interested in, and pick a school that has good ones. If you can find a program that lets high-schoolers work with college professors on projects, DO IT.

If you’re a middle- or high-schooler who isn’t yet looking at colleges, I’d advise you to take the hardest classes you can in math and science. If there's a math team or Science Olympiad, etc., join and just have fun. (Don't do it to pad your résumé!) Computer programming is also worth taking. I use in my job what I learned there more than [what I learned in] any other class. Science Fair, if your school still [holds one], is also great, and one of the few opportunities you get to imitate a scientist in school.

For younger students, I'd just say continue to do well in school. When you’re young, teachers don't like it when you go ahead in the lessons, but being able to teach yourself is one of the most valuable skills you can have. When you’re excited about something, you should never stop learning about it.

And this applies to everyone: Both working in science and doing work in science classes can be a tough and lonely path sometimes. The way you handle being stuck on something is really important. Do you give up easily, or do you try again? Do you try something slightly different? On the other hand, it's just as important to know when to take a break and when to stop altogether. A lot of recent research shows grit is a huge predictor of success, and STEM is no exception.

What was your Gold Award project? What inspired you to work on that project? What did you learn from the experience?
I relabeled the local library's video tape collection so the videos were sorted in alphabetical order. For some reason, our library put numbered stickers on the videos, and the numbers just got higher and higher (up to 7,000). It meant people could see what was new, but not find any specific title. It seems like a simple project, but it actually took over a hundred hours of work!

With my project, I learned how to work on something that wasn’t solved in day or even a week. [Years later], as part of my work on Pluto, I catalogued every research article I could get my hands on since Charon’s discovery and noted the longitude and latitude conventions it used. It took months. I think the same kind of patience I learned through working toward my Gold Award applied there, too!

Girl Scouts love stargazing when they camp. Any insider tips you would like to share?
There are some awesome apps that tell you what star you’re looking at [by just holding up] your phone. These are great in the city when you’re not sure if that bright thing in the sky is Saturn or Sirius—but when you’re away from civilization, keep your phone off! The light from the screen will ruin your “dark adaption” and make it harder to see stars. You can get a flashlight that only uses light which will hurt your eyes the least, but if you can't [get one of those], cover a normal flashlight with red plastic wrap or other red plastics.

Anything else you would like to share?
When I was in high school or maybe middle school, I came across a button attached to either my sister's or my own Brownie uniform. It said "The Girl Scouts: As Great As You Want To Make It!" I realized how true it was. It's not a program where you sit back while awesome experiences happen to you—it's an excuse and an opportunity to [make that “awesome” happen] yourself.