Girl Scouts get badges for First Aid Course and now … cybersecurity

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First Aid Course – Girl Scouts CEO Sylvia Acevedo worked at NASA and IBM before she took the top job at the scouts’ headquarters in New York. Under her leadership, the organization recently unveiled a STEM program with new badges for cybersecurity, robotics and mechanical engineering. This comes at a time when the Girl Scouts face shrinking membership. Guest host Lizzie O’Leary talked to Acevedo about whether the badges make the Girl Scouts more relevant and if they’ll help girls gain marketable skills. She also asked Acevedo for an example of how the badges engage troop members in science and tech. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Sylvia Acevedo: If you’re in technology, you say, “Well, network is made up of seven different protocol levels, and the first level is the physical layer.” And the girls are like, “Whatever.” But instead what we do is, “You’re going to learn about networking, you’re going to sit in a circle and you’re going to talk.” And as you talk, you pass a ball of yarn to one another, and after 10 minutes of discussion, you look at where the yarn string as. And we say, “That’s a network.”

Lizzie O’Leary: There is sort of an interesting series of corporate partnerships here, too. So, for example, Raytheon is helping fund the think like a programmer badge. How do these corporate interactions work?

Sylvia Acevedo's custom Girl Scout badge shows her three favorite math symbols: infinity, pi and summation.
Sylvia Acevedo’s custom Girl Scout badge shows her three favorite math symbols: infinity, pi and summation. – Stephanie Hughes/Marketplace

Acevedo: So, yes, they do provide us some funding, but they’re also the subject matter experts. And we’re not the subject matter experts on cybersecurity. But we are experts in girls. And so we use them and they provide us that subject matter expertise. But then we bring in our girl expertise. How do we make it fun for girls? And so in the partnership, it’s not just writing a check but actually being very involved with us. And then as we begin to roll it out, we do know that many of them across the country want to help us be subject matter experts, so that as the girls are doing the badges and doing the work, that they’re involved in it as well.

O’Leary: What’s the metric to know if these badges are successful?

Acevedo: Wow. It’s really easy because we can see how many we have to order for the retail stores. And we know that those robotics badges, those hands-on STEM badges, design badges … they’re really popular.

Some of the new Girl Scout STEM badges in robotics, engineering and cybersecurity. 
Some of the new Girl Scout STEM badges in robotics, engineering and cybersecurity.  – Girl Scouts

O’Leary: The organization writ large has been struggling with membership decline over the last 15 years. These badges feel to me like a sort of attempt to focus on what’s very relevant now. It that how you see them?

Acevedo: We know that every girl has a mobile device in her hands, and we know technology is how she and her mom organize their day. And we want to make sure that when they’re connecting and communicating, that we’re there with them. So yes, we’re putting a lot of investment to make sure we’ve got the technology. And, you know, frankly, the world is being redesigned, and we want to make sure women and girls are at the table, reflecting our interests.

If you got the chance to make your own badge, what would it have? Maybe a notebook and pencil? Or a piano? A pair of running shoes? Tell us what you’d have on your badge. Email us your answer at[email protected].

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Follow Lizzie O’Leary at @lizzieohreally.
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