Jennifer loved almost everything about her engineering class at Oconomowoc High School. What she didn’t love, though, was that she was the only girl.

Jennifer was also captain of, and only girl on, the school’s robotics team.

“My female friends always told me they were interested in engineering and robotics,” said Jennifer, “but I never saw them taking a chance and coming in to learn with the guys.”

A longtime Girl Scout, Jennifer wanted to achieve the prestigious Girl Scout Gold Award. To achieve this, she had to plan and implement an innovative “Take Action” project, and she had a great idea.

United Way funding supports the Girl Scout Leadership Experience programming, which helps girls like Jennifer discover their skills, talents, and values, connect with others in healthy relationships and take action to solve community problems.

“When I decided to go for my Girl Scout Gold Award, that sparked it - what if I did something to encourage girls to explore their passion for engineering and robotics?” remembered Jennifer.

Jennifer developed “Girls Night in the Shop,” which invited female students into the school’s machine shop to learn how to operate machinery and CAD software to create items they could take home and show off.

“They loved it! They felt comfortable and confident enough in the environment to ask lots of questions,” said Jennifer. “I could see them becoming empowered by their new skills. They flourished!”

“Girls are excellent, creative problem solvers, and they’re great at math and science,” said Jim McLaughlin, United Way’s education portfolio manager and a former math teacher. “But by the time they enter the workforce, just 29% of science and engineering jobs are held by women. That’s why rallying fellow female classmates together to show their passion for STEM is such a powerful way to carry that talent into a career.”

Of young people like Jennifer that participated in United Way-funded youth development programs, 89% said they knew activities they could do to make a difference in their communities.

Now a student at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, Jennifer is pursuing a major in industrial design and hopes her project inspires other girls to follow their dream. Oconomowoc High School’s team has continued the “Girls Night in the Shop” event.

“If I had never stepped out of my comfort zone, I wouldn’t be here,” says Jennifer. “Girl Scouts helped me know that, if you have a team around you who has the same goal and dreams as you do, you don’t need to be afraid.”


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