When you think of the Girl Scouts, do activities like bridge building and computer programming come to mind? If the answer is no, Sharon Crall, chief consulting engineer at GE Aerospace, would like a word with you.
For almost 25 years, Crall has volunteered with the Girl Scouts of Western Ohio (GSWO). This year, for her work in bringing her passion for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) to the organization, Crall was honored with the Girl Scouts’ Women of Distinction “Girls Change the World” award.
Crall serves as a conduit, connecting GSWO with GE Aerospace’s extensive volunteer resources. “Volunteers like Sharon are truly what make Girl Scouts work,” says Aimée Sproles, chief executive officer of Girl Scouts of Western Ohio. “It’s Sharon’s dedication and courageous vision of what GE Aerospace and Girl Scouts can achieve together that helps us build tomorrow’s leaders.”
Crall’s grandmother and mother were troop leaders before her, so Girl Scouting is effectively woven into her DNA. She joined as a young girl and has memories of her mother loading scouting supplies, plus Crall’s younger brother, into a wagon that she’d pull a mile to school to host troop meetings. “We were a Girl Scout family,” she says.
Years later, she found herself serving as a troop leader for her own daughter. And when her daughter went to college in 2012, Crall was eager to continue her service to the GSWO. To celebrate the organization’s 100th anniversary, the Girl Scouts designated 2012 “the Year of the Girl.”
“They threw out an aspirational challenge: ‘Do something that will contribute to gender equity,’” she recalls. “This dovetailed perfectly with my passion to get more women into fields in STEM. I was inspired.”
Crall reached out to a couple of like-minded colleagues, fellow GE Volunteers Rosa Nemec and Katie Hamm, and the three came up with concrete ways to participate. They started with a six-week after-school series in underserved communities. “GE Volunteers, always happy to provide funding and labor for this kind of thing, were brought in to help,” she says. “Our goal was to increase girls’ exposure to STEM fields. We try to keep it fun because it’s not school, and we want girls to have a positive experience with STEM.”
A couple of years into the after-school series, fellow GE volunteer Lindsey Hazenfield offered to create a self-esteem lesson plan and lead it. Crall was all for it. Now all of the participating schools in the Cincinnati area — including Princeton Middle School, Lincoln Heights Elementary, Heritage Hill Elementary, Woodlawn Elementary, and Lockland Elementary — combine two weeks of self-esteem training with four weeks of STEM training. The program serves up to 100 girls each year. “Girls can’t do STEM if they don’t have good self-esteem,” Crall says.
Learning by doing is a central component of the Girl Scouts. Girls proudly sew their badges — awards earned after completing skill-building activities — onto their uniforms. The Girl Scouts offer over 140 STEM-related badges, covering topics as diverse as cybersecurity, mechanical engineering, and math in nature.
In 2019, Crall decided to take her interest in designing engineering badges a step further. She worked with Troop 44405 from Mason, Ohio, to film a YouTube video detailing how to complete a Girl Scouts of the USA badge in mechanical engineering. “It was fabulous,” she says. “When the girls completed the video, my husband and I 3D-printed mini-Oscars for them!” In all, Crall’s team recorded a series of three videos, which have been viewed more than 7,800 times.
In addition to the after-school programs, Crall and her team lead STEM activities for three weeks each summer at Girl Scout day camps at Camp Butterworth, near Maineville, Ohio. In addition to traditional camp activities, girls spend the day absorbed in experiments and activities that range from electrical circuits to operating six-foot catapults.
Despite the emphasis on STEM education, Crall is realistic about girls’ interests. “Not every girl will grow up to be an engineer,” she says. But she’s always eager to share stories about her career in GE Aerospace’s chief engineering office. She explains what it means to be a “non-advocate reviewer,” the expert who gives the final nod of approval indicating that a product is safe, reliable, and durable. Her aim is to get the girls to imagine themselves in different roles as they grow up. “I want them to be unafraid to try new things, to get comfortable with being uncomfortable so that they stretch themselves,” she says.
Crall credits GE for amplifying her work with the GSWO. By bringing together GE Aerospace volunteers and the GSWO, she has been able to give girls in underserved schools access to STEM activities. “GE has a long history with volunteerism. Their unique, hands-on approach really facilitates employee involvement,” she says. “As a troop leader, I was able to impact maybe 10 to 20 girls at a time. By leveraging the power of GE in my volunteerism, I’ve been able to touch the lives of thousands of girls.”