A cyberattack shut off power in a Palm Desert building Sunday, forcing a group of Girl Scouts inside to build flashlights out of whatever they could find.
Fortunately, they’re quick learners.
Within a few hours, a group of 30 girls lit up a room with buckets, spray bottles and a mutilated doll. All it took to thwart that (fictional) attack was some direction from a national group aiming to boost science awareness in kids.
“If we catch girls in fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade and inspire them … That sets her up for a place of sucess, so that she truly does have choices,” said Claire Jefferson-Glipa, community relations and resources manager for the San Gorgonio Girl Scout Council. “It really does start here for us to prepare for the next generation.”
Men far outnumber women in career fields involving science, technology, engineering and math — a cluster often referred to as STEM. Women made up about one-fourth of the 7.2 million American STEM workers aged 25 to 64 in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Longstanding gender stereotypes and a lack of female role models are considered two main factors keeping girls from entering the field. The San Gorgonio Council — which has Girl Scout troops in San Bernardino and Riverside counties — is trying to help solve the problem.
That was the thinking behind Sunday’s workshop, where members of the Louisiana-based Cyber Innovation Center walked girls through circuitry. The girls started with simple one-bulb contraptions, working their way up to building flashlights out of household objects.
Alyssa Abbott planned to fashion hers out of a stuffed doll. But when she accidentally cut out its eyes, she decided “mutant doll” would be more suitable. So she ripped out the stuffing and decided to put two lightbulbs where the eyes would go.
“Definitely an experiment gone wrong,” the 11-year-old from Murrieta chuckled. “I want to stuff the life back into it, but it’s too awesome.”
Erika Abbott, Alyssa’s mom, was impressed by how quickly her daughter picked up the lingo, casually referring to a short circuit that momentarily thwarted her nefarious plans.
“It’s fascinating to see her taking something that typically she wouldn’t be privy to,” Erika Abbott said. “Two hours ago, if you had asked these girls whether they could do this, many of them would say no.”
The local council has more STEM plans on tap. The group recently hired Carrie Raleigh to manage those programs full time. She’s going to help girls perfect science fair projects and teach them how art intersects with science.
The Cyber Innovation Center emphasizes putting science in context — not everyone grows up to be a scientist, but we all have to shop online and protect our passwords, said Kevin Nolten, the center’s academic outreach coordinator.
“You plant that little seed,” he said. “We just get them jazzed up about the STEM field, because you never know what electrical engineer might come out of this group.”
At the end of the three-hour class, Alyssa Abbott proudly displayed her doll, complete with tangled wiring popping out of its head. She said she’d never learned about circuitry before and enjoyed the experience.
“We get to be free to just do what we want,” she said.’
Kia Farhang is a local reporter for The Desert Sun. He can be reached at (760)778- 4625, Kia.Farhang@desertsun.com or on Twitter @KiaFarhang.
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