More than cookies: Central Ohio Girl Scouts build machines, learn about STEM careers

Alissa Widman Neese The Columbus Dispatch

Feb 17, 2020 at 7:46 PM Feb 18, 2020 at 7:52 AM

About 40 central Ohio Girl Scouts spent their Presidents Day holiday off from school Monday building Rube Goldberg-style machines at the Facebook Data Center in New Albany. Guided by volunteer coaches from Turner Construction Company and its contractors, the girls split into teams and built model trash chutes to explore the construction industry, a male-dominated field with good job potential.

Their contraption caught an ill-timed case of stage fright when it was time for the sisters to present it to the judges.

The marble flew out of its cardboard slide onto the floor. The pulley stuck so that the plastic cup didn’t lift. But even though their Rube Goldberg-style machine, a model trash chute, didn’t operate as planned, that didn’t mean that Zoe and Alora Fisher didn’t learn something from the experience.

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“It’s OK to fail 25 times before you’re successful, as long as you keep trying,” said Tammy Wharton, president and CEO of Girl Scouts of Ohio’s Heartland Council. “So many girls think you have to be perfect and get it right the first time, but that’s not how innovation works.”

The design-and-build project at the Facebook Data Center in New Albany was one of three workshops the nonprofit group hosted with partners for about 150 central Ohio Girl Scouts on Monday.

AEP Ohio and Columbia Gas of Ohio hosted similar events.

The goal was to expose girls in grades 4-8 to in-demand fields related to science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, while also giving them an opportunity to earn construction-based engineering badges and build confidence.

>> : Local groups advocating for women working in construction

Careers in STEM are still typically male-dominated; women filled only 24% of the jobs despite making up nearly half of the U.S. workforce, according to 2017 estimates from the federal Office of the Chief Economist.

In the construction industry, women held only about 10% of the jobs in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Events such as Monday’s workshop aim to repair misconceptions about the construction industry, organizers said.

About 40 girls from five central Ohio troops gathered at the Facebook Data Center construction site, a project of New York-based Turner Construction Co., which has a Columbus office. When the $1 billion campus south of Route 161 and east of Beech Road is finished, it will include five buildings totaling 2.5 million square feet and more than 150 employees. Its first two buildings opened this month.

>> : Facebook brings data center online, announces expansion in New Albany

Building Turner Women, a group within the company that aims to empower women and expose them to the construction industry, helped organize the event.

Guided by volunteer coaches from Turner and its contractors, the girls split into teams and built model trash chutes.

The leaders were a diverse group, including many women — and that was intentional, said Vanessa Jester, Turner’s workforce development manager.

A team led by Baker Concrete Construction, based near Cincinnati, included the Fisher sisters.

Despite their setbacks in building a chute, the sisters said they learned a lot from the project, which required them to stay within a budget, communicate with teammates and track how many of their materials were recyclable.

Another lesson learned: “If it works once, it might just be a coincidence,” 14-year-old Alora joked.

She and 11-year-old Zoe, who live on the Southeast Side, are independently registered Girl Scouts and don’t belong to a particular troop.

Although many people associate the Girl Scouts organization with camping and cookie sales, it has a rich history of science-focused endeavors, Wharton said.

>> : Girl Scouts to debut new flavor as cookie season starts

One of its first badges was an electrician badge in 1913. Its national CEO is a former NASA rocket scientist.

“The jobs of the future are in STEM, and we want girls to know what options are available,” Wharton said.

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