A STEM center and maker space for Girl Scouts is being built in Modesto. And, putting their GIRL (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk taker, Leader) acronym into action, the young women are doing a lot of the work themselves.
A task force of Scouts is deciding what goes into the center, and girls are busy building furniture and setting up stations in the building behind the Girl Scouts Heart of Central California council office on Oakdale Road. The facility offering STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) workshops and activities is set to have its grand opening Saturday, Aug. 4.
The Modesto center will be sister to one that opened about a year ago in Sacramento. "We're kind of on the cutting edge," said Beth Peters, manager of STEM initiatives for the Heart of Central California council, which serves more than 18,000 girls in Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Tuolumne, Merced, Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, Colusa, El Dorado, Glenn, Mariposa, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Solano, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties. "At the time we opened the Sacramento center, it was the only one like it in the country."
Since then, a council in the Dallas area has opened one, there are Girl Scout STEM camps and at least one council has a mobile STEM center, Peters said. And aside from Girl Scouts of the USA, "no other organization has something like this — a girls-only science space," she said.
The Sacramento center started with a community task force of people who work in other maker spaces, STEM facilities and science education, Peters said. Then a task force of Girl Scouts was created to sharpen the focus. "Do we really need a 3-D printer? Do we want a focus on robotics? We took those questions to the girls," she said.
For the 2,200-square-foot Modesto facility, the council learned from the Sacramento experience and is using a lot of what works well there. The wow factor of the 3-D printer, for example, helps draw girls through the doors. Modesto also will have a laser cutter and a 3-D carving machine.
But the council views the two centers as complementary, offering some of the same core experiences but also different experiences that could make them weekend-workshop destinations for girls from throughout the 18 counties. "We just bought 10 VR (virtual reality) kits, which we don't have in Sacramento," Peters said. "We can do specific VR workshops and also work them into biology, agriculture and other activities."
Weeknight workshops likely will draw from only the greater Modesto area, Peters said, while weekend events (likely one a month) should pull in girls from the farther reaches of the council. "And good news for those in our outlying areas is we're also developing a STEM mobile," to launch in spring, she said. Council leaders realize it can be hard even on weekends to take girls on trips, so "we'll take it on the road to them."
And for those coming to the Modesto center, there will be multiple opportunities to attend workshops. For example, Peters said, "engineering and robotics are our most popular (in Sacramento), and we offer the basics many times a year."
The STEM center events will be for Girl Scouts only, not open to the general public. But occasionally, there will be events to which Scouts can bring friends, Peters said. So far in Sacramento, all workshops have been less than $10. For one that girls can bring friends to, she said, the typical cost might be $5 for Scouts, $7 for non-Scouts.
Scouts who came to work at the Modesto center on Thursday said they're excited about what they're helping to create. "Everything about this is so cool to me," said Presley Flanery, a 14-year-old Enochs High student. "Whatever someone would set in front of me, I'd be so interested to do it. Definitely science is my favorite subject at school."
Fellow Enochs student Marley Calbreath, 15, said she's most enthused about the "living room" in the STEM center. Peters referred to it as the "unplugged" part of the building. "It's such a good haven for the girls to imagine what can do with simple objects," Marley said. "It's mostly just an imagine room, and I’m so excited about helping design it."
And 17-year-old Cyprin Mason, business captain of the Beyer High robotics team, said she welcomes the center as a much-needed addition to STEM opportunities. "A big problem in the Central Valley is we don't have a lot these types of programs here. We don't really have a lot of STEM or technology or robotics. In fact, my team is the only one in 70 miles."
The Oakdale Road center, she said, will be a place where youth can learn to engineer, build and "unleash their creativity."
The STEM center and maker place will be welcoming to every girl from tech-savvy to tech-shy. For instance, on the wall near the entrance will be a low-tech "marble machine," where girls will use cardboard tubes, hooks, rubber bands and more to create paths to move a marble from top to bottom as slowly as possible.
"I think a lot of our girls don't see themselves as makers, but they are," Peters said. "You make something, you're a maker." The maker space element of the center is "a good way to get them in the door, and then (ask) how can we elevate your activity with STEM, with technology? Instead of doing just sewing, can we use conductive thread and make it a light-up wearable? Then they're learning about circuits."
The council will hire a full-time staffer to lead the workshops, Peters said. "But one person can't know and do all STEM, so we'll really rely on community volunteers to come in and share their expertise with the girls. In Sacramento, we have recruited some incredible coding volunteers.
"We'd like to have at least a third of the workshops led by volunteers," because those people serve as role models and give the girls opportunities to learn more about STEM careers and see themselves doing those jobs.
Volunteering is a great way for people to get involved in Girl Scouting without anything near the commitment of being a troop leader, Peters said. In Sacramento, a few men have led workshops because they've looked around their workplaces and not seen many women, she said. "They know how important is is to get a more diverse work force, and this is how they're contributing."
To learn more and get involved
- The Way of Progress STEM Center and Maker Space blog: www.thewayofprogress.org
- STEM Center information and Sacramento/Modesto calendar of activities: www.girlscoutshcc.org/en/our-council/STEMCenter.html
- Volunteer opportunities: www.bitly.com/GSHCCvolunteers
- The Modesto office of the Heart of Central California council: 3330 Oakdale Road, 209-545-3620