Growing up in Londonderry, Erin McKenney always knew she wanted to instill lasting changes in her community. Now a freshman at Lafayette College in Easton, PA, the lifelong Girl Scout said the path to her Gold Award project gave her the opportunity to set those plans in motion.
McKenney, a 2016 graduate of Londonderry High School and longtime community volunteer, says her project, “Curiosity,” addresses the gap in the workforce when it comes to STEM careers. “Often, girls are afraid to explore the STEM fields, and aren’t always given a fair opportunity to explore their strengths,” McKenney said. Working closely with Girls At Work, Inc. in Manchester, NH, the ambitious Girl Scout designed a series of fun and interactive science workshops for girls ages 8 through 12.
McKenney says she was immediately impressed with the nonprofit organization, which helps girls meet their fullest potential by exposing them to traditionally male-dominated professions, including carpentry. “You’d go in and there’s all these 9-year-olds…and they’re building tables for their families,” she says. Inspired, McKenney began developing a science curriculum for the organization.
A few months ago, she introduced her two-week program at the organization’s summer camp. Around 30 girls participated in the pilot program. McKenney worked closely with each student, presenting them with binders containing lesson plans and personalized letters from successful female scientists. “The idea was that the girls would be able to contact these scientists and ask them questions,” she said. The girls were also given the chance to meet with some special guests in their classroom. One of the guests, a successful engineer specializing in the mining industry, piqued the girls’ interests after they learned that English was her third language. “We had so many different languages being spoken in the class room, so the girls could really relate to her,” McKenney says.
During each class, the girls learned a new formula or theory and tied it to a professional working in the field. “One day we made giant bubbles and learned about a chemist. Another day we built our own rockets and learned about a woman who works for NASA,” McKenney notes. To date, McKenney has spent over 225 hours on her project and received over $3000 in donated supplies—including tote bags, binders, safety goggles, aprons, disposable gloves, and more.
“I learned that the most important quality I could offer these girls was to simply listen to them and be there for them. I also learned a lot about teaching,” she says. “Through the years, Girl Scouts has taught me a lot about leadership and about being a mentor,” she adds.
Before leaving for college, McKenney shared her “Curiosity” curriculum and materials with Girls at Work and The Circle Program, a non-profit organization serving New Hampshire girls through year-round mentoring and a residential summer camp and. Both organizations will incorporate the curriculum into their respective program offerings.
Serving and leading others is not new to McKenney. While attending Londonderry High School, she served as president of the Blue Star Lancers (a student organization offering support to peers and staff with deployed loved ones), and as community service coordinator for her school’s National Honor Society. She also participated in Girls Rock the Capitol, a legislative internship program run by Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains.