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Fostering Leadership and Teaching STEM Skills at Girl Scouts Camp

Fostering Leadership and Teaching STEM Skills at Girl Scouts Camp

Girl Scouts Astronomy Adventure Destination Camp teaches skills and inspires interest in space science. Girl Scouts Rock!!


I’m a Lifetime Girl Scout member, I was a Brownie and Junior Girl Scout, I have partnered with Girl Scouts of Northern California for over a decade, and I am the Principle Investigator of Reaching for The Stars: NASA Science for Girl Scouts. Yet, with all of that Girl Scout experience and history, I was still transformed.


Girl-led, learning by doing and cooperative learning - the processes of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience (GSLE) - were the foundation of the camp program.  Also, per the GSLE, activities focused on discovery, connection and action.  The outcome is girls who lead with confidence, courage and character to change the world.  


Two weeks prior to camp, I was anxious -- had I prepared enough space science activities for the girls? Would the activities be interesting to the girls? Would  they work together, support each other, and form a harmonious group? Triumphantly, “YES” on all counts.


The camp program was a blend of space science activities, camp maintenance, hiking, badge skills, and observing objects in the magnificently dark night skies through the telescopes at Pine Mountain Observatory (PMO) in Oregon.  We began each day with an inspirational quote from a female scientist and a daily challenge such as observe an object in the night sky that you have not seen before and record your observations, ask a question and share a learning experience with someone.  It was inspiring to give them an activity, then step back and watch them help each other through the steps, to ensure that everyone understood the concept before moving on, with comradery, without judgement.   The girls then shared their learning and were leaders during the Observatory’s public star party, the last night of camp.  From setting-up tents through telescope assembly; astronomy concepts, practices and discussions; through observing and interacting with the public with style and grace; and through breaking camp, they were respectful and inclusive.


And without a doubt, their laughter was genuine and music to my ears, and their embodiment of the Girl Scout outcome, tonic for my soul.


Under the starshine of the spectacular, cotton candy-like Milky Way Galaxy, girls retold constellation myths or shared original stories as they rotated through the robotic telescope driver’s seat and captured images.   On the spot, I crafted and told a story of the Great Goddess of Friendship. 

Once upon a time, there were ten Girl Scouts camped atop Pine Mountain. They had traveled from distant points across the country, and had been chosen to learn astronomy and space science to share with their Girl Scout sisters upon their return home. The Great Goddess of Friendship, Pamela, heard their laughter and knew they had quickly come become close and special friends. At first, the Goddess wanted to keep the laughter for herself, for those times when she, herself, was lonely.  Of course, she realized that such an act would be selfish. Instead, she used the great power bestowed upon her to capture their laughter and turned it into stars. The Goddess tossed all of the stars into the night sky so that no matter where the girls were, they would always be able to share their laughter and memories. There were so many stars tossed into the sky, the Milky Way was born.


The last morning whizzed by quickly with camp breakdown and clean-up, and ended with closing ceremonies -- distributing badges, patches, hugs, tears, and inspiring words -- and our mark on the Fecker Telescope observatory.  When I was in graduate school one of my professors challenged each in the class to make a positive difference in one person’s life each year.  Meeting that challenge has fostered unending growth in my life.   As I passed along that challenge that morning, I realized that they had changed my life, transformed me, raised my game, renewed my passion in Girl Scouting.  I am Girl Scout sister, and proud to be one.


As Madee, Abby, Wendy, Sydney, Hannah, Olivia, Jayla, Kayla, Emma, and Emma, the chaperones, and observatory staff can attest, I shouted “Girl Scouts Rock!  Girl Scouts Rock!” in celebration of their achievements.  I look forward to reports of how they continued their astronomy leadership within their council, troop, or community, and they how make a difference in the world.  


The camp would not have been possible without our NASA Sci Act cooperative agreement, GS USA Travel and Outdoor Programs, sponsoring council, and extraordinary camp organizers -- Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southern Washington, and the University of Oregon’s PMO Director, Facility Manager, volunteers, and undergraduate students.


Thank you to Emily Henehan, Jennifer Atkin, Caroline Finneran, Trish Mace,  Shannon Joseph, Dory Delp, Pat Joslin, and Tracy Wilson-Scott of the council for managing camp logistics and enumerable details.


Thank you to Scott Fisher, Alton Luken, and Maddie Thompson of the University of Oregon PMO, for giving the girls the keys to the kweendom, answering their questions, embracing the GSLE, and inspiring STEM careers.

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