By: Michelle Lange
Low-key welding and big rig truck driving drew 85 Girl Scouts out Saturday for an afternoon of maker projects, computer literacy games and robotics.
“We wanted a skill-building event that was exceptionally hands-on,” said Rose Coughlen, who manages the science, technology, education, art and math programming (STEAM) for the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana.
The Tinker Girls event, sponsored in part by CompTIA and Creating IT Futures, was designed to spark an interest in technology careers for the fourth to eighth grade girls. Girl Scouts soldered LED lights onto colorful metal shapes, programmed a robot to run an obstacle course, and yelled “BINGO!” after marking off their knowledge of topics like telecommuting, cyberbullying and the internet of things.
Hands-On Technology Activities
“How did you turn that computer inside out?” a Girl Scout named Shayna asked Nicole Maseberg, who was holding court at the Creating IT Futures booth.
“This is the computer I used in college,” Maseberg said, walking her through the computer hardware, pulled apart but still operating, even with the insides exposed. Over a table covered in gutted computer parts, Maseberg showed Girl Scouts different pieces — memory, hard drives, servers and even a point of sale system from a 7-Eleven — and how sticks of RAM have gotten smaller over the years.
“If I could do this kind of thing every day, I would,” said Maseberg, whose job is focused on IT workforce development. “I really hope it gets people inspired to work in technology.”
Outside, professional truck driver Stephanie Klang had girls climb one at a time into the cab of her CFI-owned big rig, instructed everyone else to plug their ears, and let them rip a loud HOOOOOONNNNNKKKKKK of the horn.
“There are seven computers on trucks and a DEF system that turns the emissions into water vapor,” said Klang. They were more interested in the fur balls Klang brings with her on the road — she travels everywhere with three cats in the truck. Klang used the girls’ questions to talk about technology, and the way it drives the heating system that keeps her kitties warm in her cab overnight.
“We try to bring in more women as volunteers so that the girls can see older role models doing these projects, too,” said Coughlen. “They can see themselves in that role model, and they’re seeing themselves in a career and getting the benefit of hands-on practice.”
Outside of the activities, groups like TechGirlz had displays and games to show Girl Scouts different ways they can have fun with technology, why data science is so powerful and what robots the Girl Scout LEGO robotics team is bringing to an upcoming competition.
Upstairs, the smell of hot metal wafted out of a darkened room where Dwayne Forsyth of 2D Kits and his team of volunteers gave the Girl Scouts instructions as they held soldering guns, jumped in surprise at the tiny sparks and carefully learned how much space to keep between the metal wire, the heat of the gun and the gizmo being decorated.
“A lot of them have never even heard of a soldering gun before, and now they can go to school and say, ‘I learned how to solder,’ or ‘I was able to pull the horn on a cab of a truck,’” Coughlen said. “We’re hoping they learn some hands-on skills.”
The day did what it was designed to: get girls excited about new career paths, and included the benefits of seeing female role models working with technology, and cross-pollinating the troops so girls can get to know other Girl Scouts in the area.
“We do a lot of career day events so they can see themselves in these positions, but a lot of times it’s a panel talk so it feels like school,” Coughlen said. “This is one where they get to be a Tinker Girl for the day.”
Michelle Lange is a writer and designer living in Chicago.