Brandi Brace and three girl scouts in the Nesbitt Library

Teaching Life Skills Through STEM

Focusing on its importance for future generations, Penn State Wilkes-Barre takes STEM beyond the classroom and into the community

“When I was asked to do a program with the Girl Scouts [8th through 10th grade], my first thought was that it needed to be something they would be able to immediately see the results of. This is hard when only a few hours are given to teach something completely new,” explains program instructor and Penn State Wilkes-Barre English Tutor, Brandi Brace. “When the idea of the 3D printer came up, I knew that the girls would love it! Not only would they learn how to use 3D modeling software, but they would have something tangible to take away from the class.”

Continuing with an established STEM partnership between the Back Mountain Girl Scout Community and Penn State Wilkes-Barre, Brace came up with a program that used the software Blender to create 3D models

“Using Blender, the class created a simple low poly model (tree, cartoon whale or dolphin, books, cupcake/cake, table, light bulb, other shape with minimal details), then exported the model and sent it to the library where the creations were 3D printed in the color/colors that the student chose,” stated Director of Enrollment Management, Ellen Gregorio. “Using the Blender software, our hope was that the young ladies learned: 3D navigation, basic 3D manipulations, and tool usage.”

“I am so grateful the faculty and staff at Penn State Wilkes-Barre are always willing to put together workshops for our troop,” said Mindy Wesley, Girl Scouts Troop Leader. “I want the girls to have fun, but I don't want them doing traditionally girly activities. I really want to give them the opportunity to explore STEM fields.”

Over 160,000 Girl Scouts participate in STEM programs annually, and a majority of councils offer their members more than ten STEM programs each year. These programs serve to engage young women in STEM topics and scientific reasoning, and allow them to apply concepts learned in school in new ways. While the content and intensity of STEM programs vary, they are often developed with the same impact goals in mind—increasing girls’ interest in STEM, increasing girls’ confidence in their STEM-related abilities, educating girls about STEM careers, and exposing girls to STEM professionals, to name a few.

Brace could not agree more with the Girl Scouts’ goals; “We don’t need to just expose future generations to STEM, we need to make it feel accessible. This is more than overcoming the ‘math is hard’ conception. It’s showing them that transferring the skills they learn in the STEM fields - those of problem solving, relational thinking, and ‘showing work’ or proofs - make them better at every other aspect of life. Technology and related fields define generations. The more that we can instill an appreciation and hunger to learn it in younger generations, the better off the world will be. We need to inspire students to explore and create. STEM is one way they can do that.”

“According to the United States Department of Commerce, STEM related occupations are growing at a rate of 17% while other fields are growing at a 9.8% average,” explained Instructor of Computer Science, Jeff Chiampi. Chiampi held a Lego Robotics workshop for the Girl Scouts in the spring. “Female students are less likely to pursue a career in a STEM field so workshops like the Blender program, showcasing a female instructor in Brandi, are an important stepping stone in showing them there is a wide array of opportunity out there for them.” 

When questioned as to what advice she would share with her 8th grade self, Brace stated, “Honestly, to keep doing what I was doing. I would encourage me to define ‘better,’ on my own terms, and to focus more on what I felt was important.”