It all started one Christmas, when 10-year-old Girl Scout Finlay Sitzman of Olathe saw her brother’s toy robot for the first time. After playing with it for months, she wanted to build her own.
“When I grow up, I want to do something with science and technology. Right now, I’m looking towards robots,” Finlay said.
The initial spark that pushes more girls into science, technology, engineering and math fields (STEM) is important at an early age, said Darcy Gray, communications specialist with the Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland.
Girl Scouts of the USA this week released 23 new badges that focus on the outdoors and STEM skills such as programming and robotics. Officials said this is the largest badge upgrade in more than a decade.
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Finlay, who attended Camp Prairie Schooner in Jackson County this week, wanted the other girls at camp to know that just because robotics may be intimidating at first doesn’t mean it’s not for them.
“I would say that it can get sort of complicated, but you don’t want to get into that stuff until you think you can understand it,” Finlay said. “But it’s honestly an overall fun thing, because you get to play with robots in the end.”
Gray said her Kansas council in March chose troops to pilot the robotics badges.
“We had about a dozen troops across Kansas test out those robotics badges, and they’re really excited about it,” Gray said. “One particular troop had so much fun that they ended up ordering robots off Amazon.”
Gray said the new STEM Journeys badges are broken up into engineering, computer science and outdoor STEM focuses. For badges like engineering and robotics, she said the girls will first learn about how robots are built and how they’re programmed. They’ll learn algorithms and work together to design and build a robot with everyday items. Eventually, even though it’s not required, the girls can buy robotics kits.
“We do have a lot of program partners across the state, including the aircraft museums in Wichita and southwest Kansas,” Gray said. “We would welcome partnering with even more program partners in the future.”
Gray’s sister council is the Girl Scouts of Northeast Kansas and Northwest Missouri, which serves 23,000 scouts, said Gina Garvin, the council’s vice president of brand and marketing.
She said that over the years, the council has partnered with STEM companies where girls met women in STEM fields.
There was never an official badge for most of these STEM field trips.
“We have more than 150 community partner programs. Specifically with STEM, we have Burns & McDonnell,” Garvin said. “They do an engineering night with our girls. The girls will go in and learn what it’s like to be an engineer. They will take on activities that engineers do every day.”
Now when the scouts work with STEM partners, Garvin said their field programs will fit with the badge requirements.
“All these activities are led by females, showcasing females as engineers,” Garvin said.