Girl Scouts: Cookies or code?

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Woman sitting in front of her computer

Ray Smith

Most people have a limited view of Girl Scouts. They know about the cookies but do they know about the code?

Carrie Raleigh is the STEM program manager for Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio in California where she says they are much more than a cookie program. Girls Scouts has been coordinating experiences to help teach girls life skills for over 100 years, and as our world changes, they will need to as well. To learn the right skills for our current world, Girl Scouts is focusing their efforts on teaching girls about robotics, cybersecurity, coding, gaming, and gaining STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) career exposure.

Read more in my interview with Carrie who will be speaking at SCaLE 14x this year on Girl Scouts and computer science for middle schoolers.

Why are you dedicated to empowering girls in STEM?

As a child, I was told that there were things I could not do simply because I was a girl. I love that I am in a position where I can ensure that every girl that participates in our programs will learn that she is valuable and can achieve her goals. There is a tremendous need to increase the number of women in STEM, and with the work that we are doing at Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio we can help make real change in the Inland Empire.

What's your day job? Dream job? 

Honestly, I am in my dream job. When I worked on my Master’s degree a few years ago, I focused my research on the underrepresentation of females in the sciences. When I learned about the STEM Program Manager position with Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio, I was thrilled to find a career that tied in perfectly with my academic background. My job is all about empowering girls and encouraging them to try new things. What could be better?  

Tell me about your passion projects there. 

One of the programs I run is our Classroom to Career series. We work with middle school girls from Title 1 schools in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties where we take girls once a month to work sites to meet females in a variety of work environments and gain exposure to a variety of STEM related careers. The girls that participate are showing a tremendous response and enthusiasm for this program. The girls continue to express how they never knew they could do so many things or have so many options in their future careers. I love that this program will truly have an impact on the lives of these girls.  

Our other major STEM program is our GenCyber Day Camp. Through a National Science Foundation grant, and collaboration with California State San Bernardino, during the summer of 2015, we had 250 girls learning to fly drones, build computers, code, and learn the principles of cybersecurity. We had participation from Facebook, Google, Department of Homeland Security, Northrup Grumman, Mitre, and Sigmanet (who sent representatives to lead sessions with the girls). It was truly an amazing week and one that we hope to recreate this year. 

What is the most challenging part of achieving the goals of the program? What would help? (tablets for all the girls, more money, a field trip to NASA, etc) 

Working for a non-profit, finding funding for programs is always the big issue. Our council has an amazing fund development department that works tirelessly to help provide funding for STEM-focused programming to the girls but we would love to be able to serve more girls. Our council just purchased a new summer camp and my dream would be to have a state-of-the-art STEM Lab on-site with computers, 3D printers, video equipment, telescopes, and weather stations (and more!) to allow girls to gain STEM skills and learn about the interaction of STEM and the environment.

Donations are always welcome.

What's unique about middle school girls learning to code? How do you engage them?

At the end of each program, we have the girls complete an evaluation to share what they learned during the experience. One of the recent comments from a student was: "I thought computers were for boys and nerds, I didn’t think I would enjoy coding." This comment perfectly demonstrates the need for girls to be exposed to coding and programming. Many girls do not realize this is something they would be great at and that they would enjoy because they just have not had the exposure or there are preconceived misconceptions that this is not for girls. We focus on Title 1 schools in the San Bernardino and Riverside area to give girls opportunities that they would not get anywhere else. 

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Jen leads a team of community managers for the Digital Communities team at Red Hat. She lives in Raleigh with her husband and daughters, June and Jewel.


It's great to see efforts like these to bring more girls to coding and STEM in general, but... I see no explicit mention of promotion of Free Software in that program, as I would hope giving these links between Scouting and Free Software

Great to see and read this. Tomorrow afternoon I start facilitating a robotics class which will have some Girl Scouts in it. I'm going to share this with them. I have already shared the article with a Girl Scout leader and our local library system.

Wow, learned something new about the girl scouts! Great to see STEM involved here.

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