Girl Scouts build STEM skills with hands-on activities

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Hillary Gavan/Beloit Daily News Beloit Girl Scout Troop 3056 studies their fingerprints. Pictured, from left, are Addison Mrizek, Addison Hollis, Brooklyn Watkins and Brielle Watkins. They participated in "GSI: Girl Scout Investigations" at the Big Hill Center on Saturday.

BELOIT - More than 200 Girl Scouts and 100 adults descended upon the Big Hill Center on Saturday for "GSI: Girl Scout Investigations."

The program, put on by Badgerland Council, had girls meeting and interacting with experts who use forensics in their careers. The event which included fingerprinting, DNA extraction, code breaking, handwriting analysis and spy gadgets was designed to boost skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Wisconsin State Crime Lab DNA analyst Margaret Arndt and UW-Platteville forensic science instructor Dan Roman were leading activities.

The event was the perfect fit for Beloit Troop 3056, which has a focus this year on investigation and STEM.

Troop 3056 Leader Brandi Mrizek said Girls Scouts has evolved a bit in her eight years of leadership as she's raised three daughters in the club. For many years, she said, Girl Scouts focused on boosting girls' self-esteem and confidence among other skills. In more recent years there have been more defined pathways relating to vocational opportunities, especially in the area of STEM.

"They are showing girls opportunities they might not think they have. Engineering and math is not just for boys," Brandi Mrizek said.

STEM Program Manager with Girl Scouts of Wisconsin - Badgerland Council Sara Leverton said STEM is one of four areas that form the foundation of the Girl Scout leadership experience. Outdoors, life skills and entrepreneurship are the other three. Research shows that girls are interested in STEM, but often don't pursue it - starting as early as elementary school. In recent years, Leverton said Girl Scouts has released more STEM-related badges that girls of all ages can earn including cybersecurity, space science, engineering and computer programming. By participating in girl-focused STEM programs girls become better problem-solvers, critical thinkers and inspirational leaders.

Beloit Troop 3056 members Brielle Watkins, Addison Hollis, Brooklyn Watkins, Addison Mrizek and Ashlyn Coleman were having a great time Saturday while learning about their fingerprints.

The Scouts said they enjoy STEM activities as well as the community service work they get to do in the club.

Addison Mrizek, who hopes to one day become a physical therapist, said she enjoyed making care packages for foster children and was looking forward to helping serve Thanksgiving dinner at the Salvation Army.

Brooklyn Watkins said her favorite activity was doing crafts and caroling with nursing home residents.

The other girls said they enjoyed cookie sales.

"I like they get to collaborate with other girls and work on community projects," said mom Jessica Watkins.

Brandi Mrizek said the troop has had many adventures over the years with community service projects ranging from care packages for cancer patients to fundraisers for the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin. Cookie sales, a mainstay of the group, embeds finance and budgeting, customer service and social skills as well as personal safety skills in its instruction to Scouts.

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