Cracking the code

Raytheon, Girl Scouts to encourage girls to pursue computer science careers

Cracking the code - Girl Scouts

Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) announces a multi-year partnership with Raytheon to launch its first national computer science program and Cyber Challenge for middle and high school girls. (Photo: Girl Scouts of the USA)

The Girl Scouts have long embraced science and innovation.

One hundred years ago, members could learn about electrical systems and earn an Electrician badge. Or they could study up on those newfangled airplanes and earn a Flyer badge.

In today's computer-driven world, Girl Scouts in middle and high school will be able to learn about coding and cybersecurity, thanks to Raytheon. The company is sponsoring a new program that will be available nationwide next year.

“Coding is incredibly important for our next generation,” said Rebecca Rhoads, president of Raytheon’s Global Businesses Services and a Girl Scout alumna. “It’s something they’ll need exposure to no matter the career.”

Raytheon will serve as the inaugural sponsor for the Girl Scouts of the USA’s “Think Like A Programmer” Journey. Girls in grades 6-12 will learn how programmers solve problems, participate in interactive activities and complete a Take Action project in their community. The program will be piloted in a handful of regions in coming months, with a full national rollout scheduled for fall 2018. Girl Scouts and Raytheon will also pilot a Cyber Challenge at select Girl Scout councils in 2019, during which girls will put the skills they've learned to the test.

Education focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math – or STEM – topics make up one of Girl Scouts’ four key programmatic pillars, along with life skills, the outdoors and entrepreneurship, according to Suzanne Harper, senior director of National STEM Strategy for the Girl Scouts.

"Having this program, thanks to Raytheon, is really going to get girls interested in careers in computer science,” she said, adding that the program not only prepares Girl Scouts for potential careers, but also helps refine critical thinking skills. “It’s about teaching girls how a programmer thinks, how they take larger problems and break them down into smaller problems.”

It also prepares them for the future. By 2020, more than 20.4 billion items worldwide – ranging from household appliances to whole factories – will be connected as part of the Internet of Things.

“Part of everyday life will mean understanding the programming behind these connected devices and systems,” said Rhoads, who previously served as Raytheon’s chief information officer. “Building facilities isn’t just about landscaping and planting. It’s now about automated HVAC controlled by digital sensors.”

Raytheon hosted the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts in November for a STEM Day event at Mass Maritime Academy, in Bourne, Mass.
Raytheon hosted the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts in November for a STEM Day event at Mass Maritime Academy, in Bourne, Mass.

An estimated 2.4 million STEM jobs will go unfilled in 2018, according to a Georgetown University study. The shortfall is exacerbated by the gap between the numbers of men and women pursuing STEM careers; women currently make up just 29 percent of the STEM workforce. And that gap is widening, according to the 2017 Millennial Cybersecurity survey, which was cosponsored by Raytheon.

Part of the challenge is that many young women simply don’t know enough about the profession, according to Valecia Maclin, Raytheon’s director of cybersecurity and special missions.

“They know what a doctor does, they know what someone in law enforcement does. But most young people don’t know what a cyber professional is or what they do,” she said. “A program like this gives us the opportunity to directly engage with that age group.”

Raytheon is actively working to help attract the next generation of engineers and scientists, according to Tom Kennedy, its chairman and CEO.

“The progress to diversify the STEM workforce needs to be accelerated,” said Kennedy. “At a time when technology is transforming the way we live and work, we can – and should – show young women a clear path to taking an active role in this transformation. Working together, Raytheon and Girl Scouts will help girls build confidence to see themselves as the robotics engineers, data scientists and cybersecurity professionals who will create a better tomorrow.”

Harper said Raytheon’s sponsorship addresses a growing demand from Girl Scouts for STEM and computer-science-based programs. Girl Scouts have grown up surrounded by apps, computers and video games and want to learn how to create, not just consume, she said. 

“They’re more interested in learning about STEM if they know how STEM helps their world,” Harper said. “It gives girls a sense of power in her life: ‘Wow, I can really change the world by learning this.’”

Last Updated: 11/01/2018