Remember those Girl Scouts who knock on your door and set up a table at Shoprite selling cookies? How many of us actually know what Girls Scouts do besides selling cookies? For most of us, our awareness of what else Girl Scout troops do doesn’t quite extend beyond the plastic sleeve of Thin Mints. However, this past spring, Lawrence, Ewing, Trenton Area Girl Scout Junior Troop 70643 built a solar suitcase, a portable, solar powered generator device that is highly valuable in developing countries with energy insecurity. Oh, and they also contributed to a federally-funded research project along the way. To answer your question, they do not just sell cookies.
The fifth grade girls worked alongside Dr. Bates, Dr. Marla Jaksch, and Dr. Jaksch’s Gender and Education students at The College of New Jersey. The unusual collaboration was part of the Collaborating Across Boundaries (CAB) project, funded by the National Science Foundation (Award #1914869) which aims to involve undergraduate students in STEM projects through a series of TCNJ interdisciplinary collaborations.
Bates, who is also co-PI for the CAB project, says, “It wasn’t just plugging something in. They had to build it from bits and pieces.” “They get to put the circuits together, they have to work together as a team, not one person has all the knowledge.” In addition to helping the Scouts build the solar suitcase, students in Bates’s and Jaksch’s class enhanced the Scouts’ environment curriculum, and the revised materials will be used by troops throughout the Lawrence, Ewing, Trenton area. Bates, Jaksch and their fellow investigators on the CAB project hope these kinds of collaborations will help TCNJ faculty understand how students across disciplines can use STEM to address the needs of community organizations outside of the college.
Bates and Jaksch’s team was one of three collaborations that took place during the Spring, 2020 semester, which is the first year of the project. By the time that the three-year study is concluded, the expectation is that about 20 faculty, 700 students and more than a dozen community partners will have participated in the project. For the Scouts, the project is one of many hands-on learning experiences that prepare them for the professional world. Just a portion of their journeys include learning how to research, create presentations, speak in public, and learn about environmental issues.
Another journey, or “extended engagement” that Girl Scouts can partake in involves a series of STEM related interactive projects. An energy insecurity STEM journey was next on the list for The College of New Jersey’s Sociology Professor and troop leader Dr. Diane Bates. The idea for building the solar suitcase came from Bates’s collaboration partner, Dr. Marla Jaksch, a Women and Gender studies professor, and researcher at TCNJ who has installed solar suitcases in Tanzania, Nicaragua, Kenya, and India. Dr. Bates was very impressed with how well the girls did. “It was really cool...It was the first time I had ever seen this…the kit is what looks like hundreds of parts.” The girls first learned all the individual parts of the circuit, then followed a step by step process through which they built a complex circuit that attaches to a lightbulb.
The troop had exceeded the professor’s expectations, but the project wasn’t finished yet. Dr. Jaksch explains that, “Part of our goal together was to use an intersectional and sociological lens that’s focusing on [systems of] inequalities….”
National Girl Scouts research reports from 2012 and 2017 consistently point to social barriers that inhibit girls from pursuing careers in STEM. They found that fewer girls consider STEM as a career path, not because they aren’t interested, but because they grew up with preexisting stereotypes, perceptions, and narratives.The Girl Scouts of America have incorporated a STEM curriculum that’s intended to strengthen girls' familiarity with and confidence in the field, in hopes more women will pursue a career in STEM. Although these curriculums existed, they weren’t exactly up to par with the troop’s grade level. Bates’s SOC 345: Inequality, Pollution, and the Environment students, along with Jaksch’s WGS 360: Gender and Education students, reviewed the Girl Scout troops curriculum, and agreed it was not challenging enough for the fifth grade girls and would need some adjusting. “The college students looked at this journey book. They were as appalled as we were at how much it really de-scienced and oversimplified, and really focused on end consumer based environmental issues opposed to systems and origins,” Bates stated. Dr. Bates’s and Dr. Jaksch’s students revised the whole journey book, by adding more environmental content and making it more challenging for 5th grade level. The students also made it possible for all the activities in the new curriculum to be completed during quarantine. Then, they shared it with the entire Lawrence, Trenton, Ewing Service Unit. “They made a lasting product that Girl Scouts in the area can continue to use even after the semester is over,” Bates added. Both professors were extremely impressed with what the TCNJ students helped create, especially with the circumstances of the remote semester. Unfortunately, COVID-19 abruptly cancelled Dr. Bate’s students’ plans to facilitate a solar suitcase building with a fourth grade Girl Scout troop. Even the entire Lawrence Ewing Trenton Girl Scout committee faced complications, and the troop held its first virtual meeting a month after the state shutdown. Despite the semester’s setbacks, Bates says, “The college students did a much better job at targeting the content of this energy journey, much better than the national Girl Scouts did.” She adds, “I think it’s proof of concept is definitely there…. I think there’s a lot of opportunities for that in the future moving forward.” Bates also thinks the project illustrates the possibilities of the CAB model as well. "I think that the CAB model worked well because while the SOC students had a good sense of the content related to sustainable energy that allowed them to revise materials to emphasize the systems and origins of energy systems, they tended to target this material at an age and comprehension level well beyond that of 5th graders. Dr. Jaksch's students, who were education/WGS majors for the most part, had a much better understanding of age-appropriate material. The final products were a clear reflection of environmental sociological content from SOC 345 packaged in an age (and gender) appropriate way from WGS.
In the Fall 2020 semester, Professor Margaret Leigey's criminology students teamed up with Professor Monisha Pulimood's computer science students and a community partner, The Campaign to End the New Jim Crow. Students in both disciplines worked together to identify issues in the criminal justice system, and create web applications to raise awareness of these issues, learning from each other in the process. This podcast focuses on the experiences of those involved, including an interview with Professor Margaret Leigey, and an interview with Ms. Yumiko Mishima, a representative of this project's community partner. You will also hear from Supriya Mishra, the student researcher who conducted the interview with Professor Leigey.
In this interview a collaborating faculty member of the Collaborating Across Boundaries Project, Professor Glenn Steinberg of the TCNJ English Department speaks about his experience working with the CAB project. In the spring of 2020, supported by the Barbara Meyers Pelson Grant, he worked with Professor John Leonard from the department of music on a production of Arthur Honegger’s King David. Later, in spring 2021, he worked with Professor Diane Bates and the Ewing Green Team as part of a collaboration supported by the National Science Foundation. Professor Steinberg shares his perspective on the successes and challenges of these collaborations, and gives advice to other professors who may be interested in participating in CAB.
An audio podcast created by Victoria Vricella on July 14th 2020. ...In this podcast Victoria Vricella interviews TCNJ computer science student Abhi Vempati about his experience as a participant in a Spring, 2020 CAB collaboration between Prof. John DeGood's Database Systems class, Prof. Kim Pearson's Race, Gender and the News class and CivicStory on strategies for improving audience engagement on CivicStory's New Jersey Sustainable Reporting Hub (NJSR Hub) website. As a result of the collaboration, Vempati was hired as a summer intern at NJSR Hub to implement some of the students' proposals, including this Story Map.