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Girl-Powered Science


BRISTOL, R.I. -- Mix one part future female leaders in science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) with two-parts eager-to-learn young girls and the result is an exciting experiment in fun and progress for women in traditionally male-dominated fields of study..

Such an experiment was conducted at Roger Williams University recently when about 40 local Girl Scouts earned their science and engineering badges at a workshop hosted by the RWU Society of Women Engineers. The Girl Scout Engineering and Science Badges Workshop hosted at RWU is part of an effort to instill in girls an interest in STEM education.

PFFTTTTT!” Each time a whistle blew the Girl Scouts rotated between six different experiment stations in the Roger Williams University School of Engineering, Computing and Construction Management.

At each station, a member of the RWU Society of Women Engineers facilitated experiments and encouraged the Girl Scouts about potential areas of study in engineering and the sciences. But RWU students weren’t doing all the work. In order to achieve their badges, the Girl Scouts had to work with an RWU student to perform each experiment – from making a basic rolling toy to completing an electrical circuit to light a bulb.

“It’s basically taking in local Girl Scouts to teach them about engineering and to encourage the fact that women should get into the field of math and science, because it is a male-dominated field,” says junior Samantha Gildersleeve, vice president of the RWU Society of Women Engineers (SWE).

Involved in SWE since her freshman year, Gildersleeve has volunteered at two of these Girl Scouts badge workshops and definitely plans to volunteer next year. She enjoys showing young girls the many facets of engineering – the civil, mechanical and electrical fields as well as its “artsy” side – and urging them to ask many questions.

“I like the parents that come and support their kids, and they ask us a lot of questions. It’s nice to have someone interested in what we’re all doing here. It’s a learning experience for us to teach others how to do it, too,” says, Gildersleeve.

According to Professor of Engineering Janet Baldwin, these Girl Scouts truly earn their badges. Using the Girls Scouts’ guidelines for achieving a badge, the RWU Society of Women Engineers had the liberty to set up workshops as they saw fit. They even created their own badge – the RWU Society of Women Engineers Badge, which all of the scouts attained at the workshop.

The Society of Women Engineers at Roger Williams University started in 2000, when RWU’s engineering program first received accreditation from Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

“At that point, we were eligible to have a SWE student chapter,” Baldwin says. “So the local professional sector reached out to us, and together we worked to get a student section here at Roger Williams.”

The Girl Scouts STEM badge workshop is a biannual event, hosted at RWU in the spring and at the University of Rhode Island in the fall. The exposure to math and science learning at a young age is critical, Gildersleeve says.

“A lot of them (young girls) just don’t really go into the math and science fields. Maybe it’s because they’re intimidated. But getting them started young and instilling the fact that they are very smart and very resourceful and creative, I think, is just really important, because it gives them that confidence to move on and actually consider doing stuff like that.”