Guiding the way

Engaging the next generation matters, which is why Future Energy Systems, WISEST, and Cybermentor came together to create a new Girl Guides STEM challenge

Catherine Tays - 01 February 2021

Girl Guides of Alberta have a new "I'm a STEMinist" Challenge, patch shown above, thanks to a collaboration with WISEST, Cybermentor, and Future Energy Systems.

Girl Guides of Alberta have a new "I'm a STEMinist" Challenge, patch shown above, thanks to a collaboration with WISEST, Cybermentor, and Future Energy Systems. 

For more than a century, Canada’s Girl Guides organizations have served as a catalyst for inspiring girls, with a key focus of seeking to emphasize the importance of the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. In support of these aims, three organizations from two of Canada’s leading research universities have come together with Girl Guides of Alberta for a unique new initiative to promote the role of women and girls in STEM.   

Last month, Girl Guides of Alberta announced an upcoming new Challenge that will be available to all Girl Guides in Canada. The I’m a STEMinist Challenge is the result of a partnership between the University of Alberta’s WISEST (Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science, & Technology) and Future Energy Systems (FES) programs, and the University of Calgary’s Cybermentor. It marks one of the first times Girl Guides STEM activities have been developed by leading academic researchers. 

“With Girl Guides, we saw an opportunity to get involved in the enrichment of girls and gender-nonconforming individuals,” explains WISEST Outreach Coordinator Helen Yip. To that end, WISEST won an NSERC Promoscience grant to build connections between science outreach organizations to improve science engagement, and chose to collaborate with FES and Cybermentor. “We had an opportunity to pool our resources, compare notes, and create something really great for them.”

The goal of the collaboration was to build capacity: previous Girl Guides programming involving science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) activities at the University of Alberta was overwhelmed, with interest exceeding their 200-participant capacity. Building a new Challenge would allow the partner organizations to send STEM activities to Girl Guide groups instead of requiring them to come to campus –– a particularly important evolution during the time of COVID-19. 

“With this partnership, we wanted to create activities that could be done anywhere by anyone interested in learning about STEM,” Helen explains. “There are still a lot of barriers for girls interested in entering STEM fields –– we don’t want access to be one of them.”

By bringing activities directly to the Girl Guides, the Challenge aims to break down barriers by inspiring and engaging girls and gender-nonconforming individuals through fun activities that show them they have a place in STEM, and to encourage and provide STEM mentoring opportunities.

Choose a STEM adventure

Girl Guides troupes in Alberta and across Canada have access to the Girls First Platform, which has transformed the way girls direct their own learning. Though she was a Girl Guide for more than a decade, Future Energy Systems Outreach and Engagement Coordinator Valerie Miller wasn’t familiar with the platform until recently, and she immediately recognized the opportunity for learning it presented. 

“Back in my day, we’d look through catalogues of activities and find badges that we wanted to earn,” she explains. “With the Girls First platform, girls can direct their own learning. They have options to choose what they want to learn about. It doesn’t feel like working to earn badges; you’re doing cool things together.” This is true as well of the new I’m a STEMinist Challenge: “Once you complete the challenge, you receive recognition through a patch.”

The I’m a STEMinist Challenge follows this form: there are 23 STEM activities appropriate for all Girl Guides age levels, from Sparks (age 5-6) to Rangers (age 15-18), and covering multiple themes and program areas within Girl Guides. To complete the challenge, girls must complete a number of activities that varies based on age group, but only two –– “Women in STEM” and “Meet a STEM Mentor” –– are mandatory. 

“Aside from those two activities, the girls get to follow whatever path through STEM most appeals to them,” Valerie says. “They get to chart their own course, and find what inspires them.” 

Along the way, they will participate in activities created by University of Alberta and University of Calgary organizations, researchers, and graduate students –– the very people they might come into contact with if their future paths take them to the STEM fields. The involvement of university personnel represents a significant change over many past STEM activities available to Girl Guides troupes.

“Girl Guides often has to rely on activities developed in-house, or by Guiders –– the volunteers that lead the troupes,” Cybermentor Coordinator Hannah Brunsdon explains. “These fun activities are created by some of the most advanced Canadian researchers in their respective fields, who are committed to encouraging more girls to see their futures in the STEM fields.” All new activities also provide detailed instructions, background information, next steps, and more to support Guiders who do not come from a STEM background and may not be familiar with the content.

And though the I’m A STEMinist Challenge has been developed for the 16,000 members of the Girl Guides of Alberta, it will be available to all Girl Guides organizations across Canada. 

“We have the chance to make a difference for a lot of girls,” Helen adds. “It’s a very exciting project to be part of.”

Enriching and engaging

Valerie Miller teaches a group of children across a table at a science event

Valerie Miller has always been an advocate of engagement and learning, including volunteering as a guest scientist at TELUS World of Science.

The Girl Guides of Canada have a long tradition of inspiring girls to choose paths that they might otherwise not have considered.

“I wasn’t a sports kid, and I was shy,” Valerie recalls. “Girl Guides was a chance to hang out once a week, do crafts, learn things, and have fun. It’s a great atmosphere to build confidence, and broaden horizons.” 

Girl Guides of Canada has long focused on the need to provide opportunities for Guides to engage in STEM based activities and explore opportunities with their "Keeping Doors Open" research.

With this new partnership, Valerie sees an opportunity to make sure that girls know they belong in a research lab just as much as they belong anywhere else. 

“Anyone who wants to can belong in the STEM fields,” she concludes. “Our world faces a lot of challenges right now, and those challenges will only be solved if everyone is encouraged to bring their best ideas to the table, to help us solve them. I hope some of the girls who earn the I’m A STEMinist patch are inspired to pursue STEM education, and careers.” 

To learn more about outreach and engagement programs at Future Energy Systems, check out the Engage section of the Future Energy Systems website including many various Learning resources.