AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Girl Scouts are hoping to grab the interest of younger scouts with 23 new STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) badges that are aimed mainly at kindergarten through fifth graders.

Some of the badges include:

  • Model Car Design Challenge for Daisies, kindergarten to first grade.
  • Designing a Robot for Brownies, second to third grade.
  • Think Like a Scientist for Juniors, fourth to sixth grade.

These badges are aimed at introducing young girls to basic STEM concepts so they can grow in these fields over time. For the past two decades, the Girl Scouts of Central Texas have invested specifically in STEM activities for girls. The nationwide 23-badge expansion is the largest badge roll-out in nearly 10 years.

Quinn Langford, Anaita Merchant and Anannya Akella are Senior Level Girls Scouts that are about to become sophomores this fall at different schools around Central Texas, but they meet often to work their favorite activity: the Lady Cans Robotics Team.

The Lady Cans is a group of more than 40 Girl Scouts that brainstorm, plan, build, code and compete with robots. Girls can join as early as sixth grade, like Quinn, Anaita and Anannya did, but the girls say getting scouts in at younger ages can only be more beneficial.

Anaita says, “Girl Scouts really gives girls the opportunity to pursue things like STEM that they aren’t normally able to pursue.”

Celia Tellez, chief of Programs and Community Engagement at the Girl Scouts of Central Texas, feels that elementary school is a crucial time to get girls’ attention. “That’s really the point where they make that decision: is science for me? Or how can science play a role in what I learn or what I do in life?”

Tellez remarks that STEM-related projects and tasks are really part of what the founder of the Girl Scouts wanted to achieve back in 1912. “When you think about the first badges that came out, they were really science-based.” For example, the sky badge studies weather phenomena and star mapping. Numbers are growing, too: About 160,000 girl scouts participate in STEM programs each year.

In addition, STEM careers are growing almost twice as fast as other jobs in the U.S., and the skills are highly sought after. Roughly half of all people in the U.S. workforce are women, but only about a quarter of the people in STEM careers are female. All three Girl Scouts KXAN spoke with say this needs to change. According to Anannya, “If a sixth grade girl is able to build a 120 pound robot, why do we not belong?”

If girls stay interested in these pursuits, the outlook is good. Texas is one of the top producers of STEM jobs with more than 100,000 positions, trailing only California between 2009 and 2015.