In honor of the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts next year, the 3.2 million member organization has launched a series of new badges designed to train girls for the modern workforce. Along with the traditional emblem-winning skills like first aid, baking and gardening, girls can now be awarded for product design, digital filmmaking, public policy, website design, and customer insights (in their cookie-peddling).
Badges are the "skill-building and historical component of girl scouting," in the words of Alisha Niehaus, the executive editor of program resources at Girl Scouts of the USA, and they've been continuously updated over the Girl Scouts' century in response to the changing desires and needs of their members.
"We're a girl-driven organization, and we asked today's girls what they're looking for," says Niehaus. "They wanted the great fun of girl scouting, but with a purpose.
"These are skills that employers are really looking for these days," she adds.
Girl Scouts has always given a nod to girls' career interests when designing badges. It just so happens that girls' career interests, or the careers permitted them, have evolved wildly over the last 100 years.
Exploring New Roles
In many ways Girl Scouts has been profoundly progressive in certifying, through a few stitches, the opportunities that girls could dream of. One of the first badges (printed in 1913) was for aviation, 19 years before Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.
It's perhaps no surprise that in 1916, smack in the middle of World War I, a Telegraphist badge would become available, or that girls could earn a Businesswoman insignia as of 1920, the same year that women officially had the right to vote.
At the end of World War II, when the U.S. made the full switch from isolationism to a central role on the world stage, girls could earn an Interpreter badge. And from the early 1960s, as broadcast journalism flowered, girls could win recognition in Radio and Television and as a Reporter.
But Girl Scout badges have also reflected ways in which women have been restricted. Homemaking and Clerk were extremely popular badges at midcentury, when stay-at-home motherhood and clerking were two of the most popular routes for women.
Over the past few decades, women have penetrated almost every field, now totaling almost half of each medical school class, and half of our country's corporate management. But they are still sorely underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), occupying less than a quarter of the jobs in these financially lucrative and socially vital areas.
Scouting For Scientists
"Women in science is a huge focus for the Girl Scouts," says Niehaus. In 1980, Girl Scouts launched a series of STEM badges, including Aerospace, Math Whiz, Science Sleuth, Auto Maintenance and Audiovisual Production. In 1987, only three years after Time named the computer Machine of the Year, there was a Computers badge, and in 2001, the title of Cyber Girl Scout.
"They learned how to use spell-check and download a file," explains Niehaus, "which now of course is galactically outdated. Today, girls really know how to turn on a computer by fourth grade."
But they've updated the STEM skills in their new slate of badges, which includes Special Agent, in which girls dabble in forensics, and Entertainment Technology. "Girls can go look at the physics of roller coasters, and what kinds of optics are involved in making ghosts at Disney World. Cool things that can get girls excited about these fields."
The Fashion, Fitness and Makeup badge has also been dumped in favor of Science of Style, which involves looking at fabric nanotechnology, and the chemical components of sunscreen. "As opposed to thinking what would be the coolest thing to wear next season, they can think: 'I can have this in a fabric that can respond to my mood,' " says Niehaus.
For the Product Design badge, "girls can look at things in their world -- their chair, their backpack -- and see how they can make it better for them." All of the badges, Niehaus notes, "are great skills for girls to learn, a combination of design and entrepreneurship."
This combination of design and entrepreneurship is a radical step in teaching young girls about the world they are entering, and what their place in it could be. As Niehaus puts it: "Girl Scouts has been growing with women for the last hundred years."
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