College of Engineering Dean Amy S. Fleischer joined the board of the local Girl Scouts council at an ideal time: Just this summer, the Girl Scouts of the USA announced an enhanced focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). And Fleischer, who has a doctorate in mechanical engineering, has plenty of STEM experience.
She’s also a third generation Girl Scout, whose daughter was a scout.
“We are a Girl Scouting family,” she said.
When she was chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department at Villanova, Fleischer was on the board of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania, where she promoted STEM activities, which included running Girl Scout Day at the university for eight years.
While the Girl Scouts are known for their cookies, the organization also encourages scouts to build skills focused on outdoor activities, leadership, advocacy and teamwork, awarding badges for achievements. Reflecting its goal to get girls more interested in STEM activities, the Girls Scouts announced 42 new STEM badges in July.
We sat down and talked with Fleischer about her past experiences with Girl Scouts, gender culture shifts and her role with Girl Scouts of California’s Central Coast, which serves over 8,900 girls across six counties.
What do you think will be the biggest impact of the new STEM badges?
It starts to normalize girls’ interest in science and technology at a really, really young age. And it shows each of them that these activities are fun and that lots of girls like these topics. My hope is that this leads to a new influx of girls falling in love with science and engineering,
What did you get most out of being a Girl Scout?
The friendships and the support in the all-female environment were just invaluable to me. We were just a bunch of quirky kids that liked to do non-traditional stuff, and this was a place where we could get together and be ourselves in that environment.
What’s your best memory of Girl Scouts?
My best memory of Girl Scouts was an adventure trip we did – Winter Survival Camping. It was in January in northern Ohio, which is where I grew up. It was cold, but we had a lot of fun. We dehydrated all of our food and rehydrated it and made stew. We took plastic sheeting and made our own tents.
You wanted to be an astronaut when you were young. What did Sally Ride (the first woman in space) represent to you?
I could just look at her and see that if she could do it, I could do it. And until I saw a woman do it, I never really even considered that that was something that I could do. Before I just thought, Oh, that’s something that guys do.
What were your favorite toys growing up?
Legos, building blocks. Matchbox cars. I had one of the first PCs. The PC’s came out in the 80s, and my dad bought me a TRS-80 from Radio Shack, and I learned how to program. I was one of the first kids in my elementary school to take programming.
All of my friends in elementary school were boys because they wanted to do the things I wanted to do. Play with trains and cars. I had a huge Matchbox collection. l always really liked video games, too. Atari and Intellivision. If I need to bust stress sometimes, I’ll go home and play my Nintendo. I don’t get into first-person shooters, but, boy, I really love playing a little Mario Kart.
Lots of big names in industry – Microsoft, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and AT&T – are supporting the Girl Scouts STEM initiatives. Why is that in their interest?
It’s in their interest because they are starting to prepare the next generation workforce. If they encourage young women to go into STEM fields early, the hope is that they’ll persist through and will change what the engineering workforce looks like.
Why is it important to have women in the STEM workforce?
The more diverse people we have sitting at the table, the more interesting ideas we’re going to get. We each have different experiences, and if we draw on those in our designs, we’re going to end up with a much richer design in the end.
What is your favorite Girls Scouts cookie?
Thin Mints — but you have to keep them in the freezer. Cold, frozen Thin Mints are the best.