Scouting Out STEM: Girl Scouts Moved by Careers Program [Pipelining: Attractive Programs for Women]

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  • IEEE WOMEN IN ENGINEERING MAGAZINE JUNE 2012 26 1942-065X/12/$31.002012IEEE

    Pipelining

    Attractive Programs for Women

    gGirl Scoutsan organization whose mis-sion is to build girls of courage, con-fidence, and character, who make the world a better placemay be best known for community service activi-ties and a popular cookie sale, but these young ladies may be poised to take on leadership roles in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields as well. Thanks to Raytheons MathMovesU program, 300 Girl Scouts in eastern Massa-chusetts recently had the opportu-nity to join in a full days worth of fun with STEM activities. The event was held on 20 November 2011 at Middlesex Community College in Bedford, Massachusetts, and fea-tured workshops in engineering and robotics, with IEEE Women in Engi-neering Magazine Editor-in-Chief Karen Panetta as a guest speaker.

    MathMovesU was started in 2005 and built on a vision by Raytheon Chief Executive Officer Bill Swan-son to encourage children to become interested in STEM careers. According to Diane Longtin, a senior quality engi-neer at Raytheon and a coordinator of the MathMovesU event with Girl Scouts, MathMovesU came about because kids were not going into engineering fields, and companies like Raytheon were get-ting nervous about what the future would be like if children are not pursuing math

    and science careers. The program is geared toward children in grades 48 and can be implemented in a variety of ways.

    Its all in how you institute it, says Longtin. Each Raytheon facility across

    the United States has its own spin on the program. We do a lot of work with the local school systems, so through the schools we offer tutoring. We also hold big events like the Science of Sports science fair cohosted with Kraft and the New England Patriots. Even if their school system doesnt get involved with the program, individual students inter-ested in math and science can sign on to www.MathMovesU.com and play games, apply for scholarships, learn about other

    MathMovesU initiatives and partner-ships, and more.

    Seeing the need to increase inter-est in STEM among girls in particular, Longtin chose to institute MathMovesU with the Girl Scouts. I knew that we had been doing an annual program with Boy Scouts for quite a few years, but I hadnt heard about anything similar for the girls, so that piqued my interest, Long-tin explains. After securing the neces-sary funding and working relationships, the first MathMovesU event for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts kicked

    off on 14 November 2010 at Middlesex Community College. With 300 girls sign-ing up for that first program so quickly, a wait list had to be put in place.

    Girl Scout Juniors (fourth and fifth graders) and Cadettes (sixth to eighth graders) were divided by age for three workshops around different engineer-ing disciplines. In software engineer-ing, scouts used Alice software to design a girl with a face and hair and to ani-mate her to walk and talk. In structural

    Scouting Out STEMGirl Scouts moved by careers program

    Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/MWIE.2012.2189446

    Date of publication: 11 May 2012

    The Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts were ready to tackle the STEM subjects offered by the MathMovesU program.

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  • JUNE 2012 IEEE WOMEN IN ENGINEERING MAGAZINE 27

    engineering, the younger girls built marshmal-low and spaghetti towers while the older girls built bridges with software. Then, in green engineer-ing, the Juniors worked with windmills while the Cadettes experimented with little solar cars. It was a jam-packed day for the girls, from 9 am to 5 pm, but there was such positive feedback that Longtin knew they would be doing it again in 2011.

    For last years event, the coordina-tors decided that the older girls would benefit more from one longer workshop as opposed to three separate activities. There was a lot of talk about what the large workshop would be, says Longtin. The girls had to get something really significant out of it. The team was for-tunate to learn that Middlesex Commu-nity College works with the University of Massachusetts (UMass) at Lowell, which provided access to its robotic artwork program for the Cadettes. Robotic art-work involves the combination of three-dimensional artwork and robotics, creating work that lights up, moves, and has other dynam-ic elements. It was extremely successful. The girls loved it, describes Longtin, who is grateful to a handful of Raytheon volun-teers whom she calls young, inge-nious engineers that helped with the logistics of the workshop.

    The Juniors still participated in three separate activities, repeating the Alice software program from the year prior because they could create new characters, such as a snow woman and a fairy. There were also workshops in electrical engineering and Newtons law. Amy Comeau, a 16-year-old sopho-more in high school in Billerica, Massachusetts, and a volunteer at the program, gushed about how much fun she and the girls were having during the workshops. We built live circuits with foam board,

    some wires, nails, and screws, and every girl there was so intrigued and excited by the activity, she says. It was especially fun for the girls, adds Comeau, because they got to take their circuits home.

    Also at this years event, Dr. Karen Panetta spoke to the Scouts about her extensive STEM career and introduced five volunteers from her Nerd Girls pro-gram, which celebrates the individuality and beauty of brains all in an effort to inspire young girls to pursue math, sci-ence, and engineering while breaking the stereotypes perpetuated regarding smart individuals. All five girls were completely

    different, so every girl there could relate to at least one of the Nerd Girls, recalls Long-tin. The Scouts were so excitedyou would have thought those girls were rock stars. It was just a great fit for this MathMovesU program. Comeau agrees, saying Dr. Panetta and the Nerd Girls really brought the possibilities of STEM

    careers to life for the Scouts. When I was working with a couple of groups after Dr. Panettas talk, she recalls, I asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up and they were saying computer engineers and astronauts. Math was now exciting for them because they knew the cool things they could do with it. Comeau also personally took away plenty of inspiration from this segment of the day because she wants to be an astro-naut when shes older and found common ground in Panettas experience applying to be an astronaut.

    Overall, Longtin is ecstatic by the events success. The reason we did

    this was to excite girls about math and science, she says. When I walked away from the program that day, I really felt we had done that. Brenda Fitzgerald, region-al director of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, said that her office received a ton of positive feedback from the program. One staff [member] mentioned that the leaders and the girls couldnt stop talking about the program on the bus ride home, shares Fitzger-ald. Another parent, of whom this was their first Girl Scout event, spoke glowingly that she and her daughter couldnt wait for the next event. Comeau actually overheard girls saying they wanted to come back for more the following week.

    Theres also evidence that the 2010 event was successful as wellat that first program, the Girl Scouts were split about 75% Juniors and 25% Cadettes but

    The Girl Scouts attended three separate workshops during the day-long event, including an electrical engineering class.

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    From left: Ruth Bramson, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, Jim McCoy, chief information officer and vice president for Information Technology at Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems, and Carole Cowan, president of Middlesex Community College.

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    Nearly 50 Raytheon employees volunteered their time at the workshops during MathMovesU Day.

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  • IEEE WOMEN IN ENGINEERING MAGAZINE JUNE 2012 28

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    in 2011, the split was much more even because almost all of the fifth graders came back, now as sixth grade Cadettes. The volunteers and coordinators at Ray-theon and the Girl Scouts of Eastern Mas-sachusetts are looking forward to many years of future success with the program.

    Longtin has a personal connection to the programs mission. While shes been involved with Girl Scouts for 20 years, shes worked at Raytheon for 25 years, after receiving a dual degree in indus-trial engineering and computer sci-ence from UMass Lowell and a masters degree in computer science from Boston University. She vividly remembers the moment a future in STEM clicked for her. I was in my fourth grade math class at Catholic school, and the nun was handing back a long division test that the majority of the class had failed. But then she said there was one stu-dent who had gotten 100% on the test, says Longtin. I sat there waiting for a boys name to be called, but then she handed the perfect paper to me. Then, she adds, It wasnt that I hadnt known before that I was good at math, but at that moment it was confirmed as a good fit for me. Longtin and her colleagues now have the opportunity to pass that encouragement on to hundreds of young girls through MathMovesU events.

    Leslie Prives

    Bridging the Gap

    Engineering with Australian students

    What is an engineer? What do engineers really do? How do they affect the world as we know it? Could you construct an informed answer to these questions? Most likely you could if you are read-ing this magazine. Many adults could not, though. Would the majority of chil-dren be able to answer these questions? Why shouldnt they? We all know what doctors, lawyers, dentists, policemen, firefighters, waitresses, and taxi driv-

    ers do for a living. Why is engineering enshrouded in a cloud of mystery and apprehension by nonengineers?

    I set out to investigate some of these questions after receiving the Anne E. Borghesani Memorial Prize at Tufts Uni-versity. As our world accelerates toward an increasingly technology-based soci-ety, it is imperative that we understand any misconceptions held by the next generation about the development and creators of that technology. If engineer-ing is largely unacknowledged or mis-understood by children, distorted ideas develop about what an engineer is and how technology is actually designed and implemented. Once established, these inaccurate ideas about engineering become more difficult to correct. This divide between engineers and nonen-gineers should be minimized if there is to be any sort of public understand-ing about how profoundly engineering affects us as a global community pro-gressing toward a better future. Funding for many programs will depend upon this understanding.

    My research took place in Melbourne, Australia, a city geographically almost half a world away from the United States but culturally very similar to many coastal American cities. Specifically, I was interested in the opinions of students aged 811 about engineering. My goal was to visit primary school classrooms for about an hour and a half each and have the students take a survey about engineering, initiate an interactive dis-cussion, then conduct a design challenge.

    The first step was to get in touch with various headmasters and teach-ers to set up these classroom sessions. I unfortunately encountered resistance from many headmasters and professors at this initial stage. Numerous headmas-ters would sound interested in my pro-posed program when I spoke with them on the phone, but would fail to return subsequent calls. Some would outright say that they were not interested in my program and hang up. Interestingly, without fail, the headmasters and teach-ers who did respond to my efforts all mentioned that they are closely related

    Fourth grade students at North Melbourne Primary

    School finalize their high-rise tower design.

    Sixth grade students at North Melbourne Primary School test their high-rise tower designs.

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