Friday, August 14, 2015

Volunteers Bring Engineering (and Heart!) to Girls

For the last year, I’ve been co-leading a project, and its pilot phase is drawing to an end in August. What’s most delighted me about this project is meeting the volunteers who go the extra mile to create new opportunities for the girls they serve.

The project—“Engineer Your Journey”—is a collaborative effort between Techbridge and Girl Scouts of the USA, funded by the Noyce Foundation. Using Girl Scout Leadership Journeys, Girl Scout volunteers have blended science and engineering career messaging and hands-on activities to deliver for girls. 

Many of these volunteers are what might be considered typical troop leaders: moms who want their daughters to participate in Girl Scouts so, sometimes when no one else steps up to do it, volunteer to lead troops from their daughters’ schools, churches, or neighborhoods. It’s astounding to me that these women are willing to take on even more, often juggling full-time jobs outside the home, care for other children or aging parents, and additional volunteer work.
Other Engineer Your Journey volunteers have been teachers/professors and administrators heeding the call to participate because they care about girls in their communities. They may not have a daughter in a given troop/group, but they have nonetheless volunteered to lead engineering and leadership activities in a unique girl-only setting. Whatever their background, I consider these individuals to be exceptional, because they have given of themselves amid busy lives in a busy world. As Australian teacher and politician Elizabeth Andrew said, “Volunteers do not necessarily have the time—they just have the heart.”

These remarkable volunteers gave their precious free time to attend trainings, record their opinions, and make suggestions to improve the project, in effect investing in the education and opportunities of tomorrow’s girls—girls they may never know. Whether out of hope that their daughters will down the road consider offers for in-demand, well-paying, and secure jobs in STEM fields; because they wanted fresh materials to enrich their troops in the near term; or for any number of other reasons, these volunteers were committed to the end. They were willing to try activities that might not have gone “just right” the first time, able to say to their girls “I don’t know—let’s go find out!” They modeled the kind of willingness to try, fail, and try again that they—and we, the project designers—want for their girls. And this degree of commitment cannot be commended enough.

So allow me to thank Brenda, Joanna, Christine, David, Deborah, DeeDee, Wynne, Claire, Marsha, Priscilla, Cathy, Sharon, and Susan with Girl Scouts Heart of the South; Mary, Veronica, Angel, Colleen, Kim, Kate, Rhonda, Anika, Tonya, and Gretchen with Girl Scouts Louisiana East; Kathy, Heather, Renee, Dawn, Brandi, Lindsay, Tauyna, Linda, Jennifer, Nicole, and Margaret with Girl Scouts of North East Ohio; Crystal, Seledia, Claudette, Lynette, and Davida with Girl Scouts of South Carolina – Mountains to Midlands; Jo, Amy, Beth, Autumn, Juli, Wendy, Erica, Brandi, Grace, and Jan with Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania; and many more who made our Engineer Your Journey pilot possible. Without volunteers like them, our ideas would not come to life, and we could not have positively impacted hundreds of girls’ lives as we’ve done.

August 14–16, as the final piece of this project, Techbridge and GSUSA are hosting a “Spotlight on STEM” conference in New York. We’ll examine the lessons learned over the course of the year with Engineer Your Journey, networking with staff and volunteers from 40-plus Girl Scout councils. We’ll learn from one another about effective STEM programming, activating STEM role models, and what excites girls as they consider STEM in their futures. I invite you to follow our conference attendees’ tweets (#girlsinSTEM and @techbridgegirls), and if our project evaluation results (coming in early November) interest you, please reach out to me.

Megan Davis is a program manager at Techbridge, an out-of-school-time science and engineering nonprofit serving girls and underrepresented youth, and offering professional development for their networks of caring adults. She is also a lifetime member of Girl Scouts. Megan can be reached at