Girl Scouts’ Dallas Camp Refocuses on STEM Education

STEM Center of Excellence at Camp Whispering Cedars allows girls to explore science, technology, engineering, and math



The moment had arrived.

A group of Girl Scouts gathered around a roller coaster track fashioned from polyethylene foam. One girl held a marble at the top of the track readied for a signal.

“Three, two, one. Go!” the girls shouted in unison.

The marble slid smoothly down the pathway, weaving through holes in a collection of rolling chairs, before coming to a halt well shy of its final destination.

“The sides are lower. We need to reinforce the sides,” 10-year-old Girl Scout Abiba Moncriffe explained to her teammates.

The exercise — designed to demonstrate the concepts of potential and kinetic energy — was part of the first programming held recently at Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas’ STEM Center of Excellence at Camp Whispering Cedars.

The 92-acre camp about 20 minutes southwest of downtown Dallas is transitioning into a $13 million living laboratory where girls can explore science, technology, engineering, and math.

GSNETX CEO Jennifer Bartkowski said other councils in the nation have opened STEM-focused buildings, but to her knowledge the Dallas property will be the only entire camp dedicated to STEM.

“Girl Scouts is known for cookies, camps, and crafts — and we are absolutely those things — but we are so much more.” 
Jennifer Bartkowski

“Girl Scouts is known for cookies, camps, and crafts — and we are absolutely those things — but we are so much more,” Bartkowski said. 

Earlier in the day, girls put on lab coats to perform experiments showing the impact acid rain and oil spills can have on the environment.

“When an oil spill happens, a duck will land on top of the water and then get stuck,” Abiba said. “I had never really thought about it before.”

Observing girls perform the tasks was a milestone moment for STEM Center of Excellence director Audrey Kwik.

“It’s very exciting to actually see everything we planned come to life,” Kwik said.

And that’s only with a few buildings, she said.

The Rees-Jones Foundation Welcome Center and The Hoglund Foundation Girl Program Center officially opened in April. Within two years, GSNETX will complete construction to transform the rest of the property.

The second phase includes an outdoor music garden, aquatics center, archery range, and ropes course.

GSNETX has partnered with the Sci-Tech Discovery Center for a hands-on outdoor exhibit exploring the concept of energy as well as with the Texas Trees Foundation on a half-mile trail with QR codes that beam tree facts to an iPad.

In June, GSNETX received approval from the city of Dallas to build an observation tower, which will soar above the tree line giving opportunities for lessons in topography and astronomy.

“Everything is going to have a dual element there to be fun for the girls, but also STEM,” Bartkowski said.


Bartkowski said Girl Scouts has incorporated STEM programming throughout its history. Girl Scouts  introduced a flyer badge for aviation in 1913.

But, in recent years it has placed a more deliberate focus on providing girls with progressive STEM experiences.

In 2012, the Girl Scout Research Institute released a report  that found 81 percent of girls expressed interest in a STEM career, but only 13 percent reported it as their top choice.

That same year, GSNETX partnered with Dallas-based Texas Instruments to offer the first Girl Scout “engineering badge” for kindergarten through 12th graders.

Since then, it has partnered with other organizations such as the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center, and local universities.

Last summer, GSNETX launched its first STEM summer camp series with 700 attendees. This year’s series will reach about 900 girls and feature programming topics ranging from biology and engineering to coding and makerspaces.

”What we’ve realized here is that we don’t have to be the experts in everything,” Bartkowski said. “There are plenty of experts in the community, so we are bringing everyone in. We [want] that support to make the Girl Scout curriculum come alive.”

“At the end of the day, we want to change the workforce pipeline for North Texas.”
Jennifer Bartkowski

With the STEM Center of Excellence, Bartkowski sees a chance to affect the way thousands of Girl Scouts think about STEM fields and even those students from area schools who might utilize the space.

“At the end of the day, we want to change the workforce pipeline for North Texas,” she said. “We want more girls to eventually become STEM professionals primarily focusing here on engineering, computer science, coding, and some of those careers where women are really underrepresented.”

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