Western Row Elementary in Mason, Ohio, doesn’t look like anything special from the outside. But inside the nondescript brick walls and long glass windows, once a week, Girl Scout Troop 44405 and GE volunteers come together to build a better future.
Sharon Crall, a chief consulting engineer at GE Aviation, has been volunteering with the Girl Scouts for nearly two decades. She got involved when her daughter was a scout, but the energy and curiosity of each group of scouts has kept her coming back, particularly as a cheerleader for all things STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math.
“These girls are really a highlight of my week,” Crall said. “It can get a little hectic from time to time but introducing my career and the possibilities for women in STEM fields to them is very rewarding.”
Casey Moran, GE Digital VP of digital operations for service management, is one of the troop’s leaders. For her, being a role model for 10- and 11-year-old girls carries a special significance because women are not well represented in her field. In fact, just 25 percent of information technology jobs are held by women. “It’s important to me to show them what’s possible for women in a STEM career,” Moran said. “And really, I don’t care what they become—I just want them to know they can.”
The problem, Crall and Moran both explained, is that not every Girl Scout troop in western Ohio, or for that matter, the rest of the United States, has STEM experts on stand-by, ready to introduce their work world to young minds. “If a troop doesn’t have a volunteer with STEM experience, they often aren’t comfortable explaining the technicalities of STEM-related projects,” Moran elaborated.
Crall, a problem solver by nature, decided to do something about it. The result? A step-by-step video tutorial for the balloon car project, aimed at helping Girl Scout troops across the country earn a junior mechanical engineering badge. With the help of several GE Aviation jet propulsion experts, Troop 44405 was able to successfully demonstrate the engineering process from start to finish and earn the badge. Crall then spearheaded an effort to build supply kits for troops across western Ohio to pick up at the Girl Scouts of Western Ohio (GSWO) regional office.
“Hopefully it goes nationwide,” Crall said. “My ultimate goal is to bring the women doing day-to-day engineering, design, and assembly work at GE Aviation to as many Girl Scouts as possible.”
Crall and Moran’s work with the Girl Scouts is all part of a larger, nearly decade-long effort at GE Aviation to build and support programs that help close the gender gap facing many STEM professions. Although women receive more than half of the bachelor’s degrees in the U.S. in biological sciences, there is a clear gap in computer sciences and engineering. Today, just 13 percent of engineers are women, and only 25 percent of computer and mathematical scientists are women.
In 2012, GE Aviation and the GSWO partnered to launch the “Year of the Girl” initiative. Beginning with a six-week after-school program at three different schools in the Cincinnati area, the first year saw 15 scouts take part in GE volunteer-designed lessons and STEM experiments. Despite the seemingly low number of participants, volunteers knew the program had made an impact on its participants. Fast forward to today, and the Year of the Girl has turned into Years of the Girl. Seven schools in the area have programs for nearly 130 scouts.
With Year of the Girl’s success, GE Aviation and the GSWO expanded STEM programming into a three-week summer camp at GSWO’s Camp Butterworth for girls in 1st through 8th grade. For one hour each day, GE Aviation volunteers traveled to the camp to work with the scouts to complete STEM experiments. “It’s a huge effort. We have a different group of girls every week, and last year saw 380 girls and 173 GE volunteers across the three weeks,” Crall said.
In November 2017, GE Aviation hosted a Year of the Girl event at the GE Aviation Learning Center at headquarters in Cincinnati. In collaboration with the Cincinnati Women’s Network’s Women in Technology committee and GSWO, GE volunteers were able to put on STEM programming for local Girl Scout troops while also hosting an information session for parents about STEM careers. Thanks to a generous donation from Karl Sheldon, a senior executive at GE Aviation, hundreds of girls and parents were able to take part in the experience.
“The event filled up in two days,” Crall said. “It was amazing to see the appetite for STEM activities for girls like this. We had about 50 GE volunteers and 151 girls with their troop leaders and parents.”
During the event, 150 Junior Girl Scouts designed, constructed, and tested the aforementioned balloon powered car to earn their junior mechanical engineering badges. While the girls worked with their GE partners, their Girl Scout leaders and parents were invited to a presentation on ways to engage their children in STEM, which even went into the different kinds of toys the parents could purchase to encourage creativity and improve their kids’ critical-thinking skills.
“I am so excited by what the Year of the Girl initiative has accomplished. We are so lucky to have a talented, passionate core of volunteers and corporate support,” Crall said. “I can’t wait to see where we take this STEM outreach into the future.”