Girl Scouts learn STEM skills while lending a hand

The Girl Scouts attending the Helping Hands STEM Service Project workshop are carefully trying to string together plastic polymer pieces and tie knots at the end of each strand. A prosthetic hand begins to emerge as, one by one, each digit is connected to the base.

The girls’ work will one day be worn by a child halfway around the world through the nonprofit group E-Nable.

At the workshop held last month, 52 girls in grades kindergarten and up learned about prosthetics, as well as how 3-D printing works. The 3-D printer company EOS North America’s Pflugerville location printed the parts for the Girl Scouts.

The girls watched a video on how to put the hand together and had help from students at Wayside Schools’ Sci-Tech Preparatory. The school has been printing and building hands for E-Nable as part of its ninth-grade curriculum.

The Wayside students had to learn how to explain to the Girl Scouts how to do the project. “They got so much more confidence” than when they were first doing the project as students, Wayside’s engineering teacher Tammy Koelling says.

Working in teams of four or five, the Girl Scouts had to problem-solve when things didn’t go exactly as planned, like when some of the holes the string had to go through were small.

“It was a little hard whenever we ran into a problem,” says seventh-grade Girl Scout Kyleigh Van Dyke. “We figured it out all together.”

“Putting together the pieces was really easy,” says eighth-grade Girl Scout Lindsey Kastner. “Attaching the strings was harder.”

“It was really interesting doing the strings,” says fifth-grade Girl Scout Madison Schilling. She ended up using a paper clip to push it through.

EOS North America representatives also talked to the scouts about what it means to be a female engineer in a male-dominated career. EOS’ Maryna Ienina told them about growing up in the Ukraine and playing with Legos. “I liked to create new things and solve problems,” she says. Now she’s creating new things and solving problems as an engineer.

STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — is one of the Girl Scouts’ four pillars, says Celia Tellez, chief of programming for Girl Scouts of Central Texas. Women are under-represented in engineering, making up about 8 percent of the engineers, she says, but 90 percent of those women were Girl Scouts. “That’s the power of Girl Scouts,” she says.

Girls, she says, decide at a young age whether to pursue a career in STEM fields. She’s hoping the girls who came to make hands will see that this is something that they can do.

Girl Scouts has many STEM programs, from workshops like Coder Girls, where they learn to computer code, and the Samsung STEM Challenge, where they spend a weekend at camp completing challenges, to days earning tech badges with Samsung and Microsoft. It also has troops that are STEM-specific, including the robotics troop, which has won national challenges, and Tech Girls, which is an after-school troop for more than 200 girls in middle school and high school in underserved areas of Central Texas.

Many of the girls at this workshop talked about the community service aspect of this project.

“I thought it was great to learn how much you could help by making something simple and connecting pieces,” fifth-grade Girl Scout Kylie Jones says. “You could change people’s lives.”

“It’s not every day you can say, ‘I built a prosthetic hand,’” says eighth-grade Girl Scout Julie Davis. “It’s a cool experience.”

“It’s actually going to go and help someone and change someone’s life,” Lindsey says.

“I think whomever might get the hard might be a really important person,” Madison says. “We might completely change their lives and other people’s lives around them.”

In the end the girls did not finish every step of the hands in the three-hour time slot. Many of them wanted to take it home and finish it. Girl Scouts will invite some of the older scouts to return and complete the hands before sending them to E-Nable.

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