Go-getters, innovators, risk-takers and leaders … that is how the Girl Scouts interpret “G.I.R.L.” power. As the pre-eminent leadership organization for girls in North America, it inspires girls to stand up and make a difference. A new Girl Scouts mission is to put 2.5 million girls into a progressive STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) leadership pipeline by 2025. This goal is aligned and resonant with Ericsson’s focus on building tomorrow’s pipeline today, increasing the diversity of the future workforce and closing the gender gap in STEM careers. The Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas (GSNETX), supported by corporate partners, universities, foundations and program partners, opened the STEM Center of Excellence in May 2018 – a first-of-its-kind, 92-acre living laboratory, located 20 minutes from the tech hubs of the Dallas metroplex, to introduce girls to the experiential skills critical for STEM-based careers.

A Collaborative Approach

Volunteers are essential to creating and scaling STEM experiences for girls. The Girl Scouts pledge to put 2.5 million girls into a progressive STEM pipeline demands an high-scale and digital approach to preparing STEM volunteers to make that happen. Addressing this challenge through the Ericsson-Girl Scouts Alliance led to the collaborative development of a digital assistant for STEM volunteers called Jumpstart in 2018. By customizing a proven Ericsson learning experience solution to serve the Girl Scouts volunteer needs for STEM readiness, Jumpstart is evolving to increase the efficacy of Girl Scout volunteers and strengthen their own confidence and competence to lead the girls through STEM educational experiences. Jumpstart makes it easy for troop leaders — especially those new to STEM themselves — to engage in experiential learning. It’s mobile-accessible, with clear self-paced pathways that deliver multimedia examples, and awards volunteers with digital STEM badges that they can use as part of their LinkedIn professional profiles when they complete pathways and troop experiences.

Using this digital approach, the next step for the Ericsson-Girl Scouts Alliance was to find a way to harness the power of experiential learning to benefit visitors to the STEM Center of Excellence. The intention was to create a mobile, digital and immersive way for kids to experience the power of STEM around them. The solution was cutting-edge augmented reality (AR) and immersive multimedia learning design.

Creating the Spark

Ericsson created SpARk!, an app-based AR learning solution, to supplement the on-campus activities at the STEM Center. Leveraging the curricula tailored for the standard Girl Scouts program grade levels, the solution supports content curated from multiple sources; is easily updated; and is both web and mobile app-based for anytime, anywhere access. The solution targets next-generation learners through AR and virtual/mixed reality (VR/MR) activities, making for immersive and comprehensive learning. 360-degree videos and the unlimited potential of AR/VR allow learners to play with scientific concepts, mechanical components and technological capabilities in a real-life environment. Fully customizable, and scalable, the solution is ideal for teaching STEM content in an experiential way.

The Campus at Your Fingertips

Structured into subjects, then topics and then activities, based on individual program grade levels, Spark! is a constant companion for STEM Center of Excellence visitors or volunteers — a virtual campus on their phone or tablet. In the first phase, five core subject areas — science, technology, engineering, mathematics and ecology – are brought to life through 24 topics handpicked by the GSNETX . The topics align to Girl Scouts USA STEM badges and include topics such as, “Between Earth and Sky,” “Think Like a Citizen Scientist,” “Space Science Explorer,” “Eco Learner’s Geology Trail,” “The World of Bugs,” “Inventors,” “Animal Habitats,” “Detectives,” “Digital Photography,” and “Website Designing.” A learner can take an optical character recognition (OCR)-triggered AR tour of the various campus zones through the app on any mobile device, while the app feeds engaging graphics and animation on scientific concepts, background information, explanations and additional material on the activity zone being visited.

One of the key features of “Spark!” is game-based interactive content that prompts the learner to take up the quest for STEM learning, significantly improving retention through social/gameplay stimulation. Add-on features include short animations depicting the lives and achievements of leading women in science. What’s more, the learner is free to choose one of these pioneering scientists as her mentor for the day as she goes through her campus experience.

“Spark!” also includes an evolving repository of 17 short videos on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which are foundational to how STEM can improve every aspect of life by the year 2030. Each video explains the significance of a sustainability goal, showing users the links between their pursuit of STEM and saving the world, and is both an important catalyst and a critical context for their progressive STEM learning journeys.

Diversity Matters

In technology fields, finding enough qualified women to hire and promote is a challenge that the best companies are committed to resolving. Currently, women hold fewer than 25% of STEM jobs in the U.S. One of the reasons we see these low numbers is that girls are not choosing STEM fields as often as boys are. Overcoming this challenge starts long before girls choose their college major. We need to reach girls in their formative years, when they are still open to trying new things.

Why is diversity important for your organization? Successful companies embrace employees from different backgrounds and, as a result, outperform their peers. In the very near future, nearly all industries and careers will involve STEM in some way, which makes building a diverse pipeline today important for our tomorrow.

Embrace the Challenge

How can your company partner with organizations that are building a STEM leadership pipeline for girls? Begin to think about your future workforce and the employees you want to hire. What will you need them to know? What will it take for your company to be successful in the future? Understanding this challenge and partnering with an organization that is aligned to these goals can build a bridge that will develop the employees you want to hire in five to 15 years.

Don’t underestimate the time and talents your current organization can offer through activities such as mentorships, career exploration days, internships or curriculum development. The return on this investment comes not just in dollars but in people.

An Unending Quest

Spark! is an app that is meant to evolve without limits. Being modular and fully scalable, topics can be added, modified, enhanced and curated. For the Ericsson-Girl Scouts Alliance, it is a strategic and creative investment designed to benefit STEM learners and volunteers at every stage of their journey. Knowledge is infinite, possibilities are endless and every tiny spark has the potential to ignite flames of change. The experiential learning that will help build tomorrow’s leadership pipeline starts today, with a jumpstart and a spARk!

Ericsson’s partnership with Girl Scouts is a prime example of the opportunities that exist for all companies. We encourage you to embrace the critical challenge of building tomorrow’s workforce — today!

Want to learn more? Come to TICE this June, and attend the authors’ session.