Girl Scouts design apps to improve the world
by Jennifer Khedaroo
Jul 21, 2015 | 8990 views | 0 0 comments | 48 48 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Fifty Girl Scouts participated in the Summer Initiative program, which encouraged the girls to build apps based upon issues that mattered to them.
Fifty Girl Scouts participated in the Summer Initiative program, which encouraged the girls to build apps based upon issues that mattered to them.
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Jala, Julia and Keira present their app idea, Stop Police Brutality.
Jala, Julia and Keira present their app idea, Stop Police Brutality.
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A group listens to tips on how to improve their app, Stop Police Brutality.
A group listens to tips on how to improve their app, Stop Police Brutality.
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Panelists from various digital media sectors listen to app pitches while offering suggestions.
Panelists from various digital media sectors listen to app pitches while offering suggestions.
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Nearly 50 Girl Scouts from around the city pitched ideas for apps that would help to make the world a better place. In front of a panel of digital media experts at the New York Hall of Science last week, the girls covered app ideas ranging from animal welfare to police brutality to teen reading assistance.

It’s all part of the Girl Scout Leadership Institute’s Summer Intensive program, where girls between the ages of 13 and 17 gain entrepreneurial and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) skills.

Karen Lundgard, director of Camp and Teen Leadership Programs at Girl Scouts of Greater New York, found that while more than 80 percent of girls are interested in a STEM career, only around 13 percent end up pursuing a STEM field as their top career choice.

While the statistic seems alarming, Lundgard argued that the disparity represents the 88 percent of girls who want to help people, and therefore consider more traditional careers such as medical researchers.

"We want them to see that that they can have both; that they can use science or technology to help people in profound and important ways by improving the environment, making people healthier or making life more efficient,” Lundgard said. "If more girls learn that they can have STEM careers yet still achieve their goals to help and serve, more girls will choose STEM.”

Some girls in the summer program said that they went to schools with a liberal arts focus, which made it difficult to become introduced to STEM careers. Others noted that the lack of females in STEM fields was another reasons they never considered that option

“Sometimes we’re intimidated by the fact that there aren’t many role models in the field to look up to and we’re not sure where to look,” Janice, a student from Hunter College High School, said.

Since starting the program, however, a lot of opinions changed on what it meant to work in a STEM field.

After being selected to participate, the girls took part in an intense three-week schedule where they were divided into small groups based on what issue they felt most strongly about.

They proceeded to research their chosen topics, learned how to use the app software MIT App Inventor 2, and then built their apps using fundamental skills like coding and circuitry.

After putting together their apps within a matter of days, the groups learned how to market their product so that they could pitch their ideas to the panel.

One group, called Fair Play Scholars, built an app focused on the importance of understanding race and oppression for young children. They sought out a progressive and interactive app, unlike many textbook-based apps currently on the market, that could teach children through games.

For instance, 8 to 11 year olds could play word search and dictionary games that help them to understand social justice vocabulary. Advanced users can build their own characters who would take part in tough justice situations.

The group, consisting of Xiomara, Mylene and Elice, wanted to create an app for children because they felt social justice isn’t a priority in that particular age group.

Another group, Stop Police Brutality, jumped on the social change movement by introducing an international app to help broadcast instances of police abuse through video. Jala, Julia and Kiera came up with the marketable slogan “If you see it, you can stop it.”

Meanwhile, Furry Friends, a group led by Sharon, Lauren and Nicole, targeted pet owners and animal lovers. Their app focused on general animal issues and encouraged users to report animal abuse through the app. Using geolocation, the group also suggested animal shelters that provided volunteer opportunities.

Ash Coleman, a software quality analyst for Brooklyn-based digital agency Huge, felt the groups’ presentations far exceeded what she expected to see. Some groups visited Huge as part of the workplace visit portion of the program, and they soaked up a lot of information about the STEM field.

“They are learning to see problems and make their own solutions, which is very inspiring,” Coleman said.

Xiomara, a student from The Calhoun School, felt the workplace visits were a success because they were able to see the variety of STEM careers available.

“It’s not all about coding and engineering. We met a technician at Verizon who was really helpful because she taught us about how reliable we all are on cell phones,” Xiomara said. “Also, if it weren’t for her, you wouldn’t have reception in particular areas, so that was pretty cool.”

Although some aspects of the program proved to be challenging, such as learning how to code and creating the app to look exactly like they wanted, overall the girls found the experience to be rewarding. They also made friendships that will last throughout their days in high school.

“Once we started getting to know each other, there was no looking back,” Janice said. “There are really close friend groups, but we’re all open to include everyone.”

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