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Girls First program offering new ways to explore STEM

2019.03.14

picture of a girl guide buildingGirl Guides Canada’s Girls First program aims to “[empower] every girl in Guiding with the tools to navigate her world through fun, relevant, girl-driven activities and experiences.” Under the program, guides are invited to customize their Guiding experience, exploring activities that interest them most.  

We spoke with Ashley Pamenter, the program coordinator responsible for the creating much of the STEM content offered to all girl members of Girl Guides, and Louise Kent, Director of Member Experience for Girl Guides Canada, about how Girls First came to be, and how it’s benefitting girls interested in STEM, and particularly engineering.  

How did Girls First come to be? Why did work on it begin? 

In 2018, Girl Guides launched an entirely new program for girl members, called “Girls First.” This program reflected the changing needs of girls and the topics that they wanted to explore in the safe space that Guiding can offer. One of the topics that resounded was STEM; girls specifically wanted hands-on experiences. Early in 2018, we quickly identified that engineering was the perfect way to give girls what they wanted, while also encouraging more girls to explore this male-dominated field. The content creator who spearheaded this program did not have a background in engineering, so Engineers Canada was the perfect partner to make it happen! Their expertise in engineering combined with GGC’s ability to break that information into age-appropriate materials, lent itself to robust and innovative programming for ages 5 to 17.  

What role did women engineers play in developing the program’s content?  

From the moment of its inception, the women that Engineers Canada assembled were instrumental. Their approach to the engineering design process and problem solving is at the heart of every activity. They shared their stories to inspire the girls with real-life examples and ways that they had solved problems using engineering. Research clearly shows that having female role models is critical when girls are exploring new fields of interest, and this team was quick to step up to that role. They also offered additional scientific content when we were creating activities around electrical, biomechanical, and civil engineering. They were continually available to share their expertise in girl-friendly ways and to check that engineering was accurately represented throughout all the materials created.  

How does this differ from what the girls did before?  

We didn’t offer this type of rich engineering experience before. The material offered included elements of engineering, mostly focused on structural/civil engineering and concepts of strong and stable structures. This new program offers girls a much more integrated and fun approach. It gives opportunities to explore larger problems, with real-life implications, and to create their own solutions by working through the engineering design process. We’ve also provided other avenues to explore, including electrical engineering through circuit building as well as biomechanical engineering by designing ways to protect the human body. 

How are the girls using it? What responses have you had from participants? 

All of our 75,000 girl members can access it through our online program platform, no matter where they live across Canada. They can like and favourite activities, and the likes are pouring in, especially for the younger girls. One Guider shared: 

“The girls loved this activity. They didn't want to dismantle their tree house forts at the end of the meeting. Each one had a unique spin created by the group (one had a dog sanctuary on the top, another had an owl's nest - made up of the top of our toadstool - inside in a corner, one had a hammock!” – Doreen G (Guider); Brownies “Tree House Designer” activity 

The 193rd Brownies enjoyed it so much that they posted their experiences on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/BtAJNqrBXOz/ 

We expect to hear many more stories of empowered girls exploring engineering as we promote our program throughout National Engineering Month!