Friday, November 16, 2018

Path to the Stars

Path to the Stars, My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist
by Sylvia Acevedo
320 pages; ages 10 & up
Clarion Books, 2018

Rocket science is cool. It's not all about igniting rockets in your back yard - though that is what Sylvia Acevedo did. A lot of rocket science is math. OK, most of it's all about the math.

Her love of math is what led Sylvia to science. Her experiences as a Girl Scout provided the platform for her to build upon. Scouting taught her to create opportunities for herself. Scouting helped her plan for the future. It helped her develop entrepreneurial skills (so that's what cookie sales were for. I thought it was all about the Thin Mints!) and nurtured her self confidence.

What I like love about this book: I loved the scene where Sylvia wove fabric strips and newspapers into a sit-upon. I remember how, in Brownies, we made sit-upons to take to day camp. And net bags for dunking our dishes into steaming water. And how we carried something in our pocket...

Sylvia talks about working for badges, and wanting to do science. Back then, there weren't so many STEM badges, but she describes her experiments with plants and rockets to earn a science badge. Now girls can choose to explore plants, animals engineering, cyber-security, programming, robotics, and more. She tells a wonderful story about learning how to do regular car maintenance - things like changing oil, checking tire pressure, and replacing worn fan belts. Badges and scouting experiences taught her that she could take control of situations and be prepared for the unexpected.

The other thing she learned: aim high. Sylvia aimed toward space. She worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as an engineer, testing equipment for a solar probe that launched this summer (it takes a long time to build a probe for such a mission!). She also worked on the Voyager 2 flyby of Jupiter.

In an epilogue, Sylvia writes about the heroes who inspired her: Clara Barton, Florence Nightingale, Helen Keller. Although Sylvia isn't working on space projects at this time, she's still aiming high. As  CEO for Girl Scouts of the USA, she is helping girls all across the country aim for the stars.

Sylvia was kind enough to answer Three Questions:
Archimedes:  First, a warm Girl Scout welcome to the blog. I took a peek at the STEM badges that Junior and Cadette scouts can earn. Have you been able to measure how STEM badges have expanded horizons for girls and young women?

Sylvia: I am excited to hear what the girls are doing in their projects. Girls are analyzing data and helping local agencies. They are learning how to make an impact in their community. For example, girls are asking how they can use technology to get their point of view across, and also taking a more critical look at such issues as cyber-bullying and how to protect themselves online.

We’ve seen a huge uptick in their interest, and projects, in robotics. One girl had done all the robotics badges. When I asked if she planned to go into that field, she replied no, that she was interested in fashion - perhaps using her knowledge to design wearable technology.

The important thing is that girls are using their STEM knowledge to help solve problems in their communities and larger world. For example, with all the technology in agriculture, what would happen to our food supply when internet-connected machinery doesn’t work?

Archimedes: I love the chapter where you describe doing projects for a science badge: planting tomato seeds, learning about levers, and doing a project with rockets. What made you decide to become a rocket scientist?

Sylvia: Scouting opened opportunities for me to take math and science. Back then, girls routinely didn’t take higher math electives. I liked math, so I took those classes. Math is structured and logical; it gives you the right answer. For me, math was a great way to calm down.

I used math to solve every day problems. Like the time I wanted a gym bag and, without money to buy one, decided to make it. So I drew the design and figured out how much material I would need. Math was so practical. And having a good sense for numbers and the math skills gave me a lot of confidence later on in the work environment.

Archimedes: When I was a scout, we mobilized for the first Earth Day. The critical environmental problems of our day were air and water pollution. What are girls doing to meet environmental challenges?

Sylvia: When girls have the technology and skills, they can take action to make the world a better place. STEM knowledge gives Girl Scouts a way to address issues without becoming overwhelmed.
For example, 16-year-old Shelby O'Neil noticed that plastic straws were endangering sea life. So she started a nonprofit, Jr Ocean Guardians, to help educate lower-grade level children about plastic and recycling, and has hosted beach cleanups with schoolchildren. Then she decided to take her campaign to the grown-ups. She identified several companies that use plastic straws, stirrers and cup lids, and wrote them letters.

Another scout, Caroline McGraw, has been working on a pollinator project in upstate New York. (She created pollinator meadows around solar arrays at the town hall and town highway department). We don’t tell them what challenges to tackle… but clearly they see the environment as a high priority.

You can find out more about Sylvia Acevedo at her website, and about Girl Scouting at their website. Today we're joining other book bloggers over at STEM Friday, where you can discover other cool STEM books. Review copy provided by publisher.

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