The Charger Blog

Professors Engineer Hands-On Educational Opportunities for Connecticut Girl Scouts

Former Girl Scouts Stephanie Gillespie, Ph.D., and Kristine Horvat, Ph.D., are sharing their passion for engineering with current Girl Scouts, and they are hoping to inspire them to consider careers in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

July 20, 2020

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Image of Stephanie Gillespie and Kristine Horvat online instruction.
University of New Haven engineering instructors Stephanie Gillespie and Kristine Horvat are sharing their passion for engineering with Connecticut Girl Scouts.

When civil engineering major Annie Dengler ’21 was in the second grade, she was a Brownie Girl Scout. She had the opportunity to connect with a group of current Girl Scouts earlier this spring as part of a virtual event that enabled her to sharine her passion for engineering and introduce the girls to the many opportunities in the field.

“I never took part in anything like this, and that is one of the reasons I think the event was so great,” she said. “An event like this would have helped me figure out that I was interested in engineering at an even younger age.”.

The event was one of several virtual engineering programs that Stephanie Gillespie, Ph.D., and Kristine Horvat, Ph.D., both engineering instructors at the University of New Haven and former Girl Scouts, hosted for the Girl Scouts of Connecticut, which is led by CEO Mary Barneby, and emeritus member of the University’s Board of Governors. Scouts from multiple troops have participated, and each event filled within just a few days.

"Even when we are unable to meet in person, there are always way to interact and educate one another,” said Dr. Horvat, an assistant professor of chemical engineering. “I have enjoyed helping these scouts and seeing their excitement when they apply engineering to different projects. I greatly valued my time as a Girl Scout, and it is important to me to help educate young women about the opportunities that the STEM fields offer, just as others did for me.”

‘I hope they realize STEM is fun’

The University’s Engineering Living Learning Community first hosted a design challenge for Girl Scouts last fall, and the event was an overwhelming success. Dr. Gillespie, a Girl Scout for 12 years and a lifetime member, was planning more events when the coronavirus pandemic hit. She was determined to find a creative way to bring the girls together, so she helped plan a series of virtual events.

Image of activity instruction
Girl Scouts created projects with online instruction.

Open to junior level Girl Scouts in the fourth and fifth grades, the events endeavor to introduce them to opportunities in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

“A lot of literature shows that female students will decide STEM isn’t for them as early as middle school,” said Dr. Gillespie, an engineering and applied science lecturer at the University. “I hope through these events they realize STEM is fun, and that they also see role models who have been successful as female engineers. I don’t expect all of them will pursue engineering at the University of New Haven, but I hope many of them will consider it.”

The events, which have included civil, chemical, and electrical engineering, begin with an introduction to the engineering design process, then focus on highlighting a specific problem and design solution. Activities are designed to use supplies that families already have at home.

‘Showed me just how curious they were’

Keira, age 10, a Girl Scout from Rocky Hill, Conn., took part in the electrical engineering program that focused on simple circuits.

“I learned that Christmas lights are linked so if one breaks, they all break,” she said. “I liked the program because the instructors took the time to make sure all the projects worked and gave us ideas to make them better. I can’t wait to do more programs.”

Image of Annie Dengler
Annie Dengler '21.

Adds Samira, age 11, of Stratford, Conn.: “I did three University of New Haven engineering programs with the Girl Scouts on Zoom, and I really enjoyed them. It was fun to have explanations and someone to guide me on my computer while I did the projects at home.”

Dr. Gillespie and Dr. Horvat are hoping to continue their partnership with the Girl Scouts and to continue hosting these events. They want to continue to educate them and get them excited about STEM at a young age.

Dengler says the Girl Scouts she interacted with were very engaged and excited about engineering. She asked them questions about the math and science classes they have taken, and she was impressed by the questions they asked her.

“One of the Girl Scouts asked me if I would have done anything differently at their age to help me better prepare for a career in engineering,” she said. “Questions like that showed me just how curious and interested they were in engineering. I thought it was great, and I hope to do another event with them in the future and answer more of their questions.”