The Girl Scouts of Central Texas is stressing the importance of engaging young women in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, subjects at a young age.
During a May 19 panel, CEO Lynelle McKay said the organization is doing everything it can through programs to get girls engaged in technology because only about 25 percent of the STEM workforce comprises women.
"If we aren't reaching out and engaging those girls, we are failing," she said.
The organization has locations in 46 counties in Central Texas and is the first chapter in the nation to initiate STEM curriculum geared toward young women in Girl Scouts. Programs include teaching girls about technology such as robotics. This year marks the 15th anniversary of its curriculum, McKay said.
The panel—hosted at its Austin location at 12012 Park Thirty Five Circle—included women and men in education and technology careers, including Savita Raj, executive director for the Texas Alliance for Minorities in Engineering; Tricia Berry, director of the Texas Girls Collaborative Project; and Nikki Scofield Kennedy, instructional coach at Manor Middle School.
Scofield said studies show that middle school is a common time when girls start to become disinterested in STEM.
"The fact that fourth grade is when the [lack of interest in STEM] starts shows that its imperative that we begin talking to and encouraging our young ladies in STEM opportunities and STEM subjects at a much younger age," she said. " It's not just about encouraging our girls in STEM but encouraging them as a whole to be powerful in society."
High school senior Amy Quartaro is co-captain of the Girl Scouts Robotics Team. She said her experience in Girl Scout of Central Texas programs has better prepared her for studying aerospace engineering next year at The University of Texas. Quartaro also encouraged exposing girls to STEM curriculum as early as pre-K.
"As a whole, girls are really interested in STEM; they just don't think they can do it," Quartaro said.
Scofield Kennedy said providing young women with confidence in their intelligence can help engage their interest in STEM subjects. She said funding and volunteers are crucial to keeping programs afloat.
"We just have to do a better job at addressing the whole child so that they are able to have that confidence to do STEM careers, to think outside the box, to be wrong and be OK with it," she said.
Berry said that according to EngineerYourLife.org, the top 10 reasons STEM careers can be beneficial to women include job flexibility and satisfaction and earning a larger salary.
"You get to be creative, you get to work with fantastic people [and] you're never bored," she said.
In honor of the anniversary, the organization also recognized people and companies in the community that have contributed to programs for Girl Scouts, including Dell Inc., Microsoft Corp. and IBM.