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Carnegie Science Center Makes Less-Than-Optimal Programming Choice For Girl Scouts

Hey, at least it wasn't cookie making, right?

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I have immense respect for the Carnegie Science Center. The Institution does a lot of admirable work, and I can only imagine the intricate decision process involved in coordinating its programs. But big organizations are bound to make mistakes sometimes, right?

This fall the Carnegie Science Center is offering a series of age-appropriate workshops for Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops. Boy Scouts can take classes in a variety of fields; full-fledged Scouts learn about robotics, chemistry, engineering, and astronomy, Cub Scouts study science and weather, and the Webelos are offered science and engineering activities. Awesome, right? Especially considering equivalent programs must be offered for Girl Scouts too? Oh. OH. 

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Yep, that’s the one and only STEM option the Carnegie Science Center is currently offering to Girl Scout troops. Eight different age-dependent programs are offered in total for Boy Scouts.

As an engineer reader of ours pointed out, Science With A Sparkle also implies that of course girls can only be interested in science insofar as it relates to their physical appearance. You gotta reach the l’il ladies on their level! I’m not saying there’s no value to learning about health or home-made cosmetics, just that the disparity in programming reinforces disappointing gender biases. Let boys handle weather and robots and things that go fast! The fairer sex can define their worth via physical beauty and their skills as a caretaker!

Sure, maybe I’m extrapolating slightly. As I said, the Carnegie Science Center is a valuable institution (and the STEM programs they offer for girls as part of a collaboration with Chevron seem truly awesome), but the workshop in question is a perfect example of why science and engineering are still male-dominated fields. Hint: it’s not because girls “just aren’t into” that kind of thing.

To Carnegie’s immense credit, the Center responded quickly to concerns about the program, particularly those voiced by the Society of Women in Engineering (SWE):

The Center also posted a detailed statement about Science With a Sparkle on their Facebook page:

The Mary Sue reached out to Carnegie for comment on the workshop, and was assured by Susan Zimecki, Carnegie’s Director of Marketing and Community Affairs, that

We [Carnegie Science Center] have worked quite a bit with the Girl Scouts organization over the years and are planning a meeting with them soon.

About Science with a Sparkle – This class is being portrayed unfairly as sheer “fluff” whereas it has real chemistry content. I would like to give you more details about that, but the person who organizes our classes is currently out of the office for several days.

I also spoke over the phone with Lisa Shade, a Public Relations manager for the Girl Scouts of Western Pennsylvania. Shade informed me the organization does not participate in planning the workshops, but that the Girl Scouts have contacted Carnegie to see if more STEM opportunities can be made available.

It’s encouraging Carnegie is so concerned about clarifying their stance on girls in science, and I suspect the programs they mention in their Facebook post have gone a long way towards making STEM fields accessible to young women. On another positive note, the vocal concern of SWE and commenters on Carnegie’s Facebook demonstrates that the current generation of women working in science are determined to leave their fields more accessible than they found them. (“What kind of sexist crap is this?” asks one blunt but accurate commenter.)

As for historically low enrollment in the Center’s Girl Scout programs, again–enrollment isn’t low because girls “just aren’t into” science workshops. Enrollment is low because society’s over-emphasis on gender norms prohibits deviating from the herd. Enrollment is low because of self-perpetuation; the fewer women I know interested in science, the more intimidated I am about pursuing my own interests. Or, hey, maybe enrollment is low because making beauty products sounds a hell of a lot more boring than “robotics?”

Girl Scouts know when they’re being dealt a bad hand. Boy Scouts who’d love to take a “Sparkle Science” course probably do, too.

(via tipster Mandy)

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