GSEM's Brite Experience

Contributed by Mary Fuller 

When you think of Girl Scouts, the first thing that comes to mind is probably Girl Scout cookies. But Girl Scouts is so much more than those delicious cookies! On both a national and a regional level, Girl Scouts are leading the way in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). In the past three years, Girl Scouts has continually released new Badges that reflect the changing times and girls’ interests, many of which have an emphasis on STEM. Recently released Badges have covered topics like computer programming and coding, mechanical and automotive engineering, citizen science and STEM career exploration.

The Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri, whose jurisdiction includes which includes St. Louis City and the 28 surrounding Missouri counties, has a strong STEM program, including a robust robotics program. Our girls participate in STEM-focused programming year-round, both at a council-wide level and in their troops. STEM is a priority for our girls, so a partnership with the National Girls Collaborative Project and participation in the Brite program was a natural fit during this unprecedented summer where many traditional summer activities, including Girl Scout Camps, were cancelled.  

A major part of a girl’s participation in Girl Scouts is the Girl Scout Leadership Experience (GSLE), a model that uses three core implementation strategies: girl-led, cooperative learning, and learning by doing. This model aims to engage and empower girls in experiences that are girl led and encourage experiential and cooperative learning. The Brite program was a great fit with the GSLE – allowing girls the opportunity to lead the way, decide the activities they would complete and how they would complete them, and working with other girls to accomplish their goals.

Their participation in this program hit on every part of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience: it was girl-led, as the girls decided the activities they would complete and how they would complete them. They worked together cooperatively to accomplish goals and learn more about the topics covered; and they learned by doing by exploring the topics covered and creating their own videos, models and artwork to continue the learning beyond the lectures.

Girl Scout programming, including the participation in the Brite program, allows girls to learn more about STEM topics, STEM careers and develop STEM skills. Beyond learning hard skills, girls also get the opportunity to learn those “soft skills” that are so important: problem solving, teamwork, creativity, and communication – just to name a few. By participating in the Brite program, Girl Scouts from the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri developed both new knowledge around STEM skills and careers – but I also saw an increase in soft skills as well.

When the group of teenage girls that comprised the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri’s Brite cohort logged on for the first time, I was worried. The girls stared silently at me, and at each other. Getting a response was like pulling teeth, even when I asked a girl a direct question. Most of these girls had never met each other in “real life” – they are in different grades at different schools across our area.

However, over the next few days the girls started to warm up to each and began to work together. One of the first times I saw this cooperative learning in action was the day we collaborated on a piece of artwork over Zoom – a campfire scene reminiscent of nights at Girl Scout Camp. I stepped back and let the girls lead the way – and they did. As the sessions continued, the girls began to warm up, both to me and to each other. They began to open up  and speak up for discussions around the assigned topics and speakers – but also about what was going on in their lives and they things they enjoyed.  

By the end of the three weeks, the girls were leading the conversation, often spending nearly as much time casually talking about TV shows, books and their lives as the topics covered in the Brite program. We dubbed our Zoom meetings the “Fuller House” – a nod to my last name. When I asked the girls what their favorite part of the program was, one responded, “My favorite part of Brite was the activities and our “Fuller House” chats!” This quote sums up what I observed – the girls loved the speakers and the activities, but they also loved the chance to engage with other girls with similar interests.

The Brite program allowed them the opportunity to connect with female role models and learn about a variety of topics, but it also gave them the opportunity to connect and engage with other Girl Scouts and other girls from across the country. In this time of physical distancing and isolation, this program gave these girls the opportunity to flex their problem-solving skills, showcase their creativity and build new relationships.

Mary Fuller is the STEM Program Manager for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri. She currently lives in St. Louis.