Girl Scouts add high-tech badges

Cy­ber­se­cu­rity, STEM achieve­ments join na­ture stud­ies

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - ALEXA D’AN­GELO

LOS AN­GE­LES — By sell­ing Thin Mints and Ta­ga­longs in kinder­garten, El­iz­a­beth Lewelling earned Girl Scout badges for cus­tomer ser­vice and man­ag­ing money.

Now go­ing into eighth grade, she’s set­ting her sights on a topic a bit more com­pli­cated than the cookie busi­ness: cy­ber­se­cu­rity.

The 12-year-old from Palm­dale is one of 1.8 mil­lion Girl Scouts na­tion­wide who will have the op­por­tu­nity start­ing in 2018 to adorn their vests, tu­nics and sashes with merit badges for in­for­ma­tion se­cu­rity.

The move il­lus­trates the on­go­ing evo­lu­tion of the 105-yearold ac­tiv­ity or­ga­ni­za­tion for girls, which in re­cent years has ex­panded its merit badges be­yond those as­so­ci­ated with tra­di­tion­ally fem­i­nine skills — think “baby sit­ter” or “din­ner party” — to in­clude more top­ics re­lated to sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, engi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics.

It’s a shift El­iz­a­beth ap­pre­ci­ates.

“I’ll def­i­nitely be try­ing to get cy­ber­se­cu­rity badges,” El­iz­a­beth said. “I’m go­ing into eighth grade now and we use tech­nol­ogy for ev­ery­thing so I want to know how I can pro­tect my­self on­line. It’s re­ally im­por­tant.”

The 18 new badges — earned by mas­ter­ing on­line safety, deal­ing with cy­ber­bul­lies and cod­ing, among other skills — are the re­sult of a mul­ti­year part­ner­ship be­tween the Girl Scouts and the Sil­i­con Val­ley net­work and en­ter­prise se­cu­rity com­pany Palo Alto Net­works. Girl Scouts of the United States of Amer­ica Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Sylvia Acevedo said the launch of the pro­gram shows the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s “ad­vo­cacy for cy­ber pre­pared­ness.”

They join an in­creas­ingly con­tem­po­rary ar­ray of in­signias — “com­puter ex­pert,” “in­ven­tor,” “prod­uct de­signer” and “web­site de­signer” were all added in re­cent years — though the or­ga­ni­za­tion has not purged long­stand­ing badges or themes.

“We might have cod­ing work­shops but be­cause this is Girl Scouts, we’re also fo­cus­ing on de­vel­op­ing risk-tak­ing, em­pa­thy, goal-set­ting and con­fi­dence so that girls are pre­pared to over­come ob­sta­cles they might face as fe­male coders,” said Me­lanie Larsen, spokesman for the Girl Scouts of Greater Los An­ge­les. “It’s a holis­tic ap­proach — and an all-girl en­vi­ron­ment is a safe space for girls to re­ally feel com­fort­able speak­ing up and tak­ing risks.”

The badges will be avail­able to troops across the coun­try, though lo­cal chap­ters can sup­ple­ment them with ad­di­tional patches and pro­grams.

It’s not the first tech­nol­ogy-and-scout­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion. Girl Scouts of the USA

The ex­pan­sion of sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gyre­lated badges and pro­grams marks “a real tran­si­tional mo­ment for the Girl Scouts,” said Kath­leen Denny, ad­junct pro­fes­sor of so­ci­ol­ogy at Trin­ity Univer­sity, who has re­searched the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.

re­cently part­nered with Google to of­fer cod­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

In the greater Los An­ge­les area, troops have col­lab­o­rated with the So­ci­ety of Women Engi­neers and Women in Gam­ing In­ter­na­tional. There are in­tro­duc­tory rock­etry, cir­cuitry and as­tron­omy pro­grams, cod­ing camps and a pop­u­lar Lego robotics pro­gram, Larsen said.

It’s a big change from “elec­tri­cian,” “health” and “nat­u­ral­ist” — the ini­tial sci­ence-re­lated badges of­fered to girls in 1913.

Girl Scouts got its start when Juli­ette Gor­don Low as­sem­bled a group of 18 girls to create a young women’s al­ter­na­tive to the Boy Scouts. In the be­gin­ning, they played bas­ket­ball, hiked, swam and camped — ac­tions that chal­lenged gen­der roles of the time.

The ex­pan­sion of sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy-re­lated badges and pro­grams marks “a real tran­si­tional mo­ment for the Girl Scouts,” said Kath­leen Denny, ad­junct pro­fes­sor of so­ci­ol­ogy at Trin­ity Univer­sity, who has re­searched the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.

“A his­to­rian writ­ing about the Girl Scouts once said the or­ga­ni­za­tion was look­ing to de­velop a tra­di­tional, up-to-date woman,” Denny said. “They’ve al­ways had that pro­gres­sive, fem­i­nist im­pulse — but never los­ing sight of the prepa­ra­tion for more tra­di­tional roles of wives and mothers.”

Denny said that chil­dren’s or­ga­ni­za­tions, par­tic­u­larly those for just boys or girls, can have a pro­found im­pact on a child’s at­ti­tude and over­all sense of self.

That could help young women see a place for them­selves in the tech­nol­ogy in­dus­try — a boom­ing sec­tor but one well known for its gen­der gap.

Ac­cord­ing to re­search by in­for­ma­tion se­cu­rity firm Cy­ber­se­cu­rity Ven­tures, the world­wide deficit of qual­i­fied cy­ber­se­cu­rity pro­fes­sion­als will reach 3.5 mil­lion by 2021.

A study by re­search firm Frost & Sul­li­van found that women hold only 11 per­cent of in­for­ma­tion se­cu­rity jobs glob­ally. And 69 per­cent of women who haven’t pur­sued ca­reers in in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy said they made that choice be­cause they didn’t know about the op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able to them, ac­cord­ing to re­search from the Com­put­ing Tech­nol­ogy In­dus­try Assn.

“This col­lab­o­ra­tion will go a long way in elim­i­nat­ing tra­di­tional bar­ri­ers to ac­cess to cy­ber­se­cu­rity ed­u­ca­tion, like gen­der and ge­og­ra­phy,” said Rinki Sethi, se­nior di­rec­tor of in­for­ma­tion se­cu­rity at Palo Alto Net­works. “Get­ting ahead of to­mor­row’s cy­berthreats will re­quire a di­verse team of prob­lem solvers to ap­proach chal­lenges in in­no­va­tive ways.”

Young Daisies and Brown­ies won’t be fend­ing off cy­ber­at­tacks from crim­i­nal hack­ers and rogue na­tion states — there will be an age-ap­pro­pri­ate cur­ricu­lum, de­signed in part­ner­ship with Palo Alto Net­works, Larsen said. That in­cludes ba­sic com­puter skills, tech­niques for stay­ing safe on­line, and prac­tice in keep­ing pri­vate in­for­ma­tion pri­vate.

Girl Scouts of the USA and Palo Alto Net­works de­clined to com­ment on Palo Alto Net­works’ fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tion to the scout­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion.

El­iz­a­beth, the Girl Scout Cadette, cred­its her seven years with the or­ga­ni­za­tion for steer­ing her to top­ics she hadn’t, and prob­a­bly wouldn’t have, en­coun­tered.

That in­cludes robotics, me­chan­i­cal de­sign, pro­gram­ming and medicine.

For now, her “dig­i­tal movie maker” and “ne­ti­quette” badges hold a spe­cial place on her vest. Time will tell if the cy­ber­se­cu­rity badges earn primo vest place­ment as well.

Los An­ge­les Times/RICK LOOMIS

Michaela Capps, 17, helps a group of Girl Scouts with an ex­per­i­ment dur­ing a sum­mer day camp in Long Beach, Calif., ear­lier this month.

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