This post is sponsored by Always and Walmart.
It’s late on a Wednesday night and I pass by her room, about to issue yet another reminder about bedtime when I pause at the doorway. My 8th grade daughter, Emily, is sitting at her desk, laptop open, fingers flying over the keys as she works furiously to finish a website development project due in the morning. She is so focused that she doesn’t see me, nor does she hear me because her earbuds are tucked in her ears as she listens to music on her phone. Emily is in her element, solving coding challenges to build websites. Even though it’s well past the time that she’ll get a decent night’s sleep for school the next day, I decide to let her work for a while longer.
There’s a stillness and quiet that occupies our house as the clock ticks towards midnight. I turn to head downstairs and the cover of a blue notebook catches my eye. “We only truly fail if we don’t even try” is in bold letters on the cover. It immediately takes me back to the STEM Academy hosted by Always #LikeAGirl and Walmart that we attended together and was an amazing day filled with learning, mentorship, female empowerment, and confidence building.
Last month I had the pleasure of kicking off the STEM Academy by moderating a panel discussion with incredibly accomplished women in STEM fields whose inspiring words were shared with 100 Girl Scouts from all over the country. The day was to celebrate a partnership between Walmart and Always #LikeAGirl encouraging girls to “Keep Going” as they pursue STEM and their support of Girl Scouts of the USA’s (GSUSA) STEM curriculum.
Throughout Girl Scouts’ STEM programming, girls will experience setbacks, but they will also learn that unproven hypotheses fuel learning, growing, and development of an effective and functional solutions. The teacher in me recognizes the meaningful hands-on learning while the parent side of me is jumping for joy that this curriculum makes STEM learning accessible to so many girls around the country.
A Girl Scout Cadette herself, Emily accompanied me for the day at Jet.com’s headquarters. She was surrounded by fellow middle school aged Girl Scouts and incredible mentors. It was a day of female empowerment, thanks to an accomplished panel of women who shared memorable moments that sparked their interest in STEM. I loved listening to their words of wisdom for those interested in pursuing STEM careers and how each discussed how they used setbacks to fuel their success.
The power panel consisted of Vice President of E-Commerce, Mobile and Digital Marketing at Walmart Sumaiya Balbale, Research & Development Director in FemCare at Procter & Gamble Chandrika Kasturi, Chief Executive Officer of Girl Scouts of the USA Sylvia Acevedo, Systems Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Tracy Van Houten and Founder of Fly Sci Enterprise & Former Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy under the Obama Administration, Dr. Knatokie Ford. These women spoke about the importance of taking risks, exhibiting self -confidence, shared examples where it was necessary to use failure as fuel to keep going, and how they overcame obstacles to achieve success.
Obstacles that girls face when it comes to STEM start in middle school. A recent Always #LikeAGirl campaign found that seven in ten girls report being so afraid of failing during puberty that they avoid trying new things, especially STEM subjects. Even though Emily is part of the 87% of 6-8th grade girls interested in STEM1, so many middle school girls experience failure and choose not to pursue these fields.
Middle school is a time when confidence is shaken, and girls shy away from things they once loved because they fear failure. According to the Always Confidence & Puberty Survey, half of girls lose confidence at puberty2. They describe the fear of failure as ‘paralyzing’ and that fear causes them to opt out of opportunities that would be beneficial to their growth and confidence – especially when it comes to STEM2.
Navigating friendships, developing confidence, and growing as an individual while going through puberty isn’t easy during the middle school years. It’s especially hard for girls to pursue STEM when their peers don’t feel the same way about the subject.
Despite Emily’s love of STEM, her friends questioned her decision to accept a coveted spot in a high school magnet program for engineering. This made her self-confidence waver even though she knows this is a path she wants to pursue. Despite not feeling supported by friends, I’m proud of her for persisting and confronting both academic and social challenges, instead of shying away from them.
The ability to confront challenges as part of the learning process was something I saw from fellow Girl Scouts throughout the STEM Academy as they split off into groups. They rotated through experiential sessions designed to increase confidence, think like a programmer, spend time with mentors in STEM fields for projects in their community, and build a simple sensor.
The confidence building improv session led by the Harnisch Foundation’s Funny Girls and actress Abigail Breslin required tweens and teens to step out of their comfort zone while Tracy Van Houten’s Robotics: Building a Simple Sensor Session demanded problem solving, patience, and persistence to connect circuits in order to illuminate a LED light.
Each session had different challenges that the girls took in stride. I loved witnessing the collaboration and support they provided to help each other achieve success whether they were making animal noises in the improv session, problem solving ingredient and consistency issues when making slime, and engaging in programming challenges.
I loved watching Emily and her fellow Girl Scouts embrace problem solving opportunities during the STEM Academy. While the day reinforced the importance of being challenged in supportive environments, there are many other things we parents can do to support our girls as they pursue STEM. As a mom who advocates STEM learning and has raised a STEMinist (a new-to-me vocabulary word shared by Tracy Van Houten during our panel) here some additional tips for you as you support your daughter in her pursuit of STEM.
6 Ways to Support Girls Pursuing STEM
Put Your Own Fears Aside
We can’t teach confidence to our girls if we don’t feel confident ourselves. We’ve all had varying experience learning STEM subjects and if you cringe at the memory of past classes and personal failures, it’s important to put any negativity aside. STEM subjects may not have been our favorites in school, but it’s critical to support our girls in their learning without our personal bias getting in the way.
Provide a Wealth of Learning Opportunities
I like to believe that there are many different paths for kids to take in order to have their lightbulb STEM moment. Since you never know if it might come from experimenting with a circuitry set, watching a YouTube video, attending a summer camp, after school club, or even a weekend science festival or Maker Faire, it’s best to expose your daughter to a variety of different learning opportunities, including Girl Scouts.
Emily has been a Girl Scout since first grade and over the past seven years has participated in a multitude of STEM learning opportunities. Model rocket launches, trips to the Museum of Natural History, and attending the USA Science and Engineering Festival, just to name a few. Through my partnership with Always and Walmart, she even had the opportunity to learn about how Always pads are designed and engineered to prevent leaks!
Through Girl Scouts, Emily’s troop can take advantage of the new curriculum from GSUSA that encourages girls to Keep Going #LikeAGirl as they pursue STEM. I love how Walmart, with the support of Always #LikeAGirl, has committed $250,000 to help girls learn to identify and investigate a problem, brainstorm ways to address it, and take action.
Provide Safe Spaces to Encourage Risk Taking
The reason why we avoid taking risks is because we fear failure and our girls feel the same way.
A recent Always #LikeAGirl campaign found that seven in ten girls report being so afraid of failing during puberty that they avoid trying new things1. The fear of failure can be paralyzing to our girls especially during puberty when they’re not inherently confident. In order to encourage risk taking, it’s important to provide safe spaces where girls can feel comfortable taking risks. Through GSUSA, girls can work with a trusted peer group to take risks and skilled leaders who can build confidence using the new curriculum.
Ask Questions to Emphasize the Process
Sometimes we’re so focused on the end goal and achieving success that we miss important learning that happened along the way. During the STEM Academy, I led a slime making workshop and while you might think that everyone has already made slime, I was surprised to find out that only a small number of girls in my group had.
Together we used the Elmer’s glue slime recipe, adding baking soda and contact solution while talking about polymers. During the session, the girls experienced a number of different things that affected their slime. The lid fell off the baking soda, spilling way too much into the container holding the glue and contact lens solution splashed over the side of the measuring spoon. The slime consistency varied but throughout the process, the girls provided suggestions to each other to salvage their slime and everyone was happy with what they made.
Asking good questions forces girls to use their critical thinking skills by putting the focus on the process, rather than the outcome. Here are some good questions to ask that will help girls understand that taking risks and experiencing setbacks through the process is fuel for learning, growing and developing effective and functional solutions:
- What did you learn from this?
- What might you do differently next time?
- How might the results have been different if…?
Emphasize the process over successful results. Encourage girls to focus on the learning that happened through the process rather than the end goal because taking risks and experiencing setbacks can be used as fuel for learning, growing and developing effective and functional solution.
The STEM Academy provided girls with a variety of different hands-on learning experiences in different realms of STEM. Using conductive tape, a LED light, and button battery, the girls built a simple sensor as part of a robotics lesson with Tracy Van Houten. Even with clear directions and sensors that looked like they were put together correctly, some found that their sensors didn’t work.
When things don’t work quite right, frustration sets in and that can feel like failure because it shatters confidence. Instead, encourage your daughter to acknowledge her frustration but use her feelings to fuel her forward.
Leverage Your Connections to Find Supportive Role Models
Don’t feel like you have to be the expert. There are plenty of individuals working in STEM fields that would be happy to serve as mentors and role models.
- Tap into your friend network by sending an email, posting a query on Facebook, or using connections on LinkedIn to find someone with a connection to an expert in a field your daughter is interested in.
- Reach out to your local college or university to get in touch with a graduate student or professor who might be knowledgeable about your girl’s area of interest.
- Leverage your daughter’s involvement in Girl Scouts. I love that Always and Walmart are connecting Girl Scouts with female employees working in STEM fields at P&G and Jet.com, a Walmart subsidiary, providing girls with mentors who can empower them to Keep Going #LikeAGirl.
For the past 35 years, Always has been championing girls’ confidence, encouraging girls to realize their full potential. And, for over a century, Girl Scouts of the USA has been preparing girls to empower themselves to lead in their everyday lives. For more information about the Always and Walmart Live #LikeAGirl program to support Girl Scouts in 6th – 8th grades persevere through failure and Keep Going #LikeAGirl, visit https://www.girlscouts.org/en/about-girl-scouts/our-partners/always-walmart.html
1The Always Confidence & Puberty STEM Study, August 2017; based on U.S. Females 16-24 years old; 2017 census.
2The Always Confidence & Puberty Study Wave V, March 2017; based on U.S. females 16-24 years old; 2017 census.