Browsing the archives for the volunteer tag.


Girl Scout for a day… Volunteering for STEM

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I was never a Girl Scout, but I did jump at the chance to volunteer as a SWE Role Model for one of their summer camps, Minds for Design.  For as much as I talk about getting more women into STEM fields, this camp is exactly for this purpose.

“Using the Girl Scout motto of Be Prepared, the Minds for Design camp prepares the girls to be the female scientists of tomorrow.” ~WFLA

Admittedly, I’m not an engineer by trade.  For over 15 years, I’ve recruited and trained quality engineers with backgrounds mostly in mechanical and electrical engineering for Pro QC.  But, I’ll admit I was still a little apprehensive to guide over 30 middle and high-school girls through a project where the objective was to build a working wind turbine that would pickup 20 paper clips. Based on my recent Junior Achievement experience, I figured I could handle this.

The camp was in the West Central Florida Leadership Center… Nice place!  We organized the girls into eight teams, and I introduced myself and went over the scenario.  They were on a camping trip and dropped their food down a ravine.  Their job was to design and build a wind turbine that would create enough energy to lift 20 paper clips (their food) from the height of the table. A table of miscellaneous materials to choose from was available, and a test station with hair dryers was setup.

What I saw was remarkably similar to what I experience with older students and even corporate professionals.  Rather than using the brainstorming time to plan, many teams jumped right in trying to fit materials together. Others worked out a draft design prior to getting started. It was interesting to see them work in different ways and evaluate the various materials and troubleshoot issues in their design.

These girls were into it though. Our future engineers are one sharp bunch!  For the contest, we let each team have two timed trials, and we took the best of two.  The winning team lifted that cup in 3 seconds! They were the group that had the cleanest design and went back to testing several times to tweak for speed.  There were a few other groups that hit 6 and 9 seconds from what I can recall.  A few teams had designs that didn’t work, but they were open to discussing the potential causes of failure and how they could improve the design.  Everyone participated and was all-in.

Later this week, the girls will visit Heat Pipe Technology.  I’ve got to give props to the Director of Engineering & Operations over there who has opened the doors to my son’s FLL LEGO League and my daughter’s school-age daycare summer camp.  I wish more organizations were as involved in the community.  Those Girl Scouts are really going to enjoy themselves.

Overall, I had a blast.  I can only say positive things about my encounter with the Girl Scouts and the whole experience.

Here’s a great video about the local Girl Scouts’ camps here.

Also, did you know?

  • 70% of the women in the US Congress are former Girl Scouts.
  • 64% of the women in Who’s Who of American Women are Girl Scout alumnae.
  • 53% of all women business owners were in Girl Scouting.

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(Photo included with permission) 

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Junior Achievement & what’s right in education…

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images (1)The last time I broke out into a sweat and got nervous speaking to a group was just yesterday… I had volunteered earlier in the year to assist with Junior Achievement and the time had arrived.  Eighteen 4th graders were mine to educate for a total of about four hours over three days.

I was a little disappointed that my time volunteering was limited to the last week of school when 4th graders are expected to be the least receptive.  Even the brief training that was provided indicated I should try and go through the five sessions anytime other than the last week of school.  But, I didn’t have a choice there.  And, I’d hesitate to say the kids weren’t into it. In fact, it was just the opposite.

My anxiety over teaching kids was that they wouldn’t get it and/or they just wouldn’t care.  Why would I assume kids would care about starting their own business, how the stuff they buy is made, or other cool stuff like that?  Wrong…

Let me just say that these kids knew what was up!  Before I even got started, the discussion in class regarded the economy and how supply and demand affects pricing. They were using tourism and how it’s changed over the last few decades as an example.  And, there was more than one hand up to answer some of the more challenging questions.

I have to give a huge amount of credit to Junior Achievement for providing such engaging and organized materials for volunteers.  The activities applied the concepts perfectly and required very little instruction.

Key takeaways for these ten and eleven year-olds included:

Successful Entrepreneur Traits that we discussed and they evaluated themselves on include:

  • Determined
  • Creative
  • Self-Confident
  • Ambitious
  • People-Person
  • Experienced

Groups of three to four students brainstormed and started their own business using regional resources (human, natural & capital).  Many groups even came up with fun company names, like Cozy Cook where they would prepare frozen meals and distribute them throughout the U.S. and abroad.  Their regional resources included fish and shipping boats in this example.

We played a game in groups where we used the following business tasks to determine the effect on revenue and expenses associated with owning a hot dog stand:

  1. Pay for the resources you need for your business.  These are your expenses.
  2. Get the word out about your product through advertising (JA, please see my note below)
  3. Set your price and sell your product.  The money you get from your sale is your revenue.
  4. Treat your customers well. (Wooooo…)
  5. Make tough business decisions as they arise.
  6. Carefully track your expenses and revenue so that you will know if you make a profit or have a loss.

Oh, quality professionals will love this… The kids got a Problem-Solver bookmark that goes through some steps we’re all too familiar with:

  1. Clearly describe the problem.
  2. Brainstorm a list of possible solutions.
  3. Make a list of the risks & rewards for each solution.
  4. Weigh each decision to see which one has the most rewards & the least risks.
  5. Make a decision that has the most rewards and the least risks.

We even took a journey through the supply chain of a computer and I got to share some fun factory adventure stories. Fun stuff, I’m just saying.

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Overall, what an amazing experience!  You could center an entire school around these themes and spit out some wonderfully innovative and creative thinkers.  Isn’t that what we need?

Despite all of this goodness, the real win was that my son said that the kids had fun, and he made sure to give me a hug before I left the class each day.  That was kind of awesome.  Oh, and he said the teacher said I was “peppy,” which did make me giggle a little.

Note to Junior Achievement: I would change the use of “advertising” to “promotion” and that’s just me.  Promotion is equally as easy to understand and incorporates advertising and other forms of informing people about your product.  To me, Promotion = Advertising, Sales Promotion, Public Relations and Personal Selling.  

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