During Fall 2019, Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona invited girls to the inaugural Cyber Challenge Day, in partnership with Raytheon. Over eighty girls participated in the program at the University of Arizona, learning about cryptography, hacking, encryption, forensics, and other cyber topics. Girls listened to a panel of female Raytheon employees from various stages of leadership share their experiences within their career. The purpose of the event, supported by Raytheon employees who volunteered as facilitators, was to inspire interest in girls towards traditionally male-dominated careers within the STEM field. One volunteer shared that there were less than a handful of women in his whole class, and he felt he had missed all of the talents that more women could provide. He volunteered in the hopes of welcoming more women into STEM fields.
With the emergence of COVID-19, social distancing guidelines inspired us to reimagine the ways we engage with our Girl Scouts. As a result, our staff invented Virtual Girl Scouting, online programming to keep girls active amidst the long months at home. Girls practiced making healthy snacks, created art for others, learned how to plan a community change project, grew their conservation and nature skills, and more. Through pillar-themed activity boxes and badge-in-a-bags, GSSOAZ offered offline Girl Scouting experiences that taught girls all kinds of helpful skills while keeping them entertained as well. Virtual programming also allowed the whole family to participate in activities, including siblings who may have otherwise been unable to join.
STEM programming remained increasingly relevant during the pandemic, as girls were isolated from typical forms of communication and connection. GSSOAZ extended multiple opportunities for girls to learn more about important STEM subjects. On Cyber Security Day, girls learned how to be cyber sleuths. Girls engaged with each other through an online meeting to discuss how to use the internet safely, from the importance of secure passwords to recognizing fake emails and photographs. At the end, they earned their Cyber Security badges.
In the STEM activity box, girls become geologists, inspecting geodes and learning about dinosaurs, erosion, and tectonic plates. They even made their own fossils using plaster and playdough! One caregiver shared that her daughter “had fun for days,” and that she was able to do all of the activities again with the remaining supplies.
Girls rose to the challenges brought on by the pandemic this year, continuing to engage with each other and learn new skills that will set them up for future success.