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Scout CEO Helps Girls Learn STEM at new Makerspace
By Jessica Laskey
The Girl Scouts of America are about more than cookies and campfires, as Linda Farley, the CEO of Girl Scouts Heart of Central California, will tell you. Girl Scouts are go-getters, innovators, risk takers and leaders—or G.I.R.L.s, an acronym coined by the national organization to describe its membership.
Linda Farley is a perfect example of how the century-old organization inspires success. A Sacramento troop member during her childhood, Farley used the lessons of leadership she learned from the Girl Scouts to pursue a career that has included executive positions as chief fund development officer at American Red Cross Mile High Chapter, executive director of Children’s Museum of Denver and director of development at Crocker Art Museum.
“I always knew I wanted to work for the Girl Scouts,” says Farley, who has lived in the Land Park area since 2008 after bouncing between Michigan, Minnesota, Texas and Colorado before returning to her hometown. “The Girl Scouts helped me get established as a leader. They’re why I got my doctorate in leadership from the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul. I want to give girls an advantage in life, so it’s a perfect match.”
The regional Girl Scouts council serves more than 29,000 girls and 10,000 adult members in 18 counties. Since Linda Farley took the reins in 2013, the council has decided to focus heavily on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education for young women to give them a leg up in a notoriously male-dominated field.
“What we find is that when girls enter middle school, they begin to lose confidence and interest in math and science in particular,” Farley says. “Studies show that when they’re in a single-gender environment, girls are much more inclined to engage, ask questions and create. So we thought, what could we do as a council to provide the best opportunity for our girls?”
The answer came in the form of the STEM Center + MakerSpace, which opened this past December. By rejiggering the space used for its retail store off Elvas Avenue, the council freed up about 2,000 square feet for the new center without having to construct a separate building. Farley and the council assembled an all-female task force—including a team from Intel in Folsom that served on the community advisory board—to get the space up and running. They also met with other local hacker labs and with George Claire, founder of VSP Global’s innovation arm, The Shop.
“We wanted to provide more than just a space to make things,” says Farley, who hopes to open another center in Modesto next summer as well as a mobile STEM unit to reach girls and young women in all 18 counties. “Yes, we have 3-D printers, laser cutters and sewing machines, but we also have laptops for coding and robotics. We were very deliberate about delivering as many STEM aspects to the girls as possible.”
The center now hosts classes for girls and teens in kindergarten through 12th grade, as well as First Friday, where teens can hang out and solve STEM-related problems devised by the staff.
Even the famous Girl Scout cookies are getting into the STEM act. The council plans to hold classes where Girl Scouts can make derby cars with empty cookie cases.
“The younger girls will roll them down a slope,” says Farley, “but the older girls are looking at ways to make the activity more difficult—how to actually propel the box. We’re trying to integrate STEM into the other work we’re doing.”
The center highlights a local legend each month to familiarize troop members with different STEM careers. December’s featured legend was entomologist Dr. Pamela Marrone, CEO and founder of Marrone Bio Innovations, so the center displayed a wall of tools that an entomologist uses in her work.
“The Girl Scouts play such an important role in giving girls confidence and courage,” Farley says. “We give them what they need to not only know the content, but also how to speak up for themselves.”
For more information on Girl Scouts Heart of Central California, go to girlscoutshcc.org.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at email@example.com.