FBI teams up with Girl Scouts to promote science, technology careers
Kara Spencer (top right), of the FBI Office of Public Affairs, moderated a panel of FBI Laboratory personnel during the National Girl Scout STEM Festival, which was held virtually on April 17, 2021. The panel included (clockwise from lower right) forensic examiner Kimberly Edwards, biologist Tiffany Thoren, and forensic examiner Candie Shegogue.
During the first-ever online National Girl Scout STEM Festival promoting the merits of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), an FBI forensic scientist and expert on latent fingerprints held aloft her forest green Girl Scouts sash bedecked with colorful badges. It was a signal to the thousands of girls and parents who logged into the virtual event that she was one of them—and that they could be like her, if they wanted.
Kim Edwards, chief of the Latent Print Support Unit at the FBI Laboratory in Virginia, joined a panel of FBI Laboratory scientists to talk about their unique jobs and the STEM paths they followed to get there. The virtual event drew big-name presenters from the public and private sectors—all with the same goal of appealing to girls and young women to pursue STEM subjects. It’s one of the ways that girls can grow as a part of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience. And it opens a whole world of possibilities, according to Edwards, who was a Girl Scout growing up.
“I’ve always loved math and science and puzzles, so being able to inspire girls to pursue STEM fields seemed like a really fun opportunity,” said Edwards, who talked about fingerprint patterns and processing techniques during the FBI’s 45-minute segment. She was joined by an FBI biologist who talked about DNA processing and a forensic examiner who specializes in analyzing hair and fibers in the Laboratory’s Trace Evidence Unit.
The day-long virtual STEM festival in April drew more than 15,000 registered visitors who logged in for dozens of presentations on everything from robotics to coding to engineering and cybersecurity. The FBI’s participation was part of an ongoing relationship with Girl Scouts that was codified this spring in a memorandum of understanding recognizing the organizations’ symbiotic relationship. For the FBI, inspiring the next generation of STEM leaders means developing future professionals with the skills and leadership the FBI needs to support its mission.
“Hopefully our collaboration will inspire girls to discover new career interests, and perhaps some of these young women will even decide to take their talents to the FBI,” said Larissa Knapp, executive assistant director of the FBI’s Human Resources Branch and one of the highest ranked women in the Bureau.
“Hopefully our collaboration will inspire girls to discover new career interests and perhaps some of these young women will even decide to take their talents to the FBI.”
Larissa Knapp, executive assistant director, Human Resources Branch
Earlier this year, FBI Intelligence Analyst Ráchel Roché Walton participated in one of Girl Scouts’ “campfire chat events” focused on leadership and two virtual events focusing on cybersecurity with colleagues from the Bureau’s Criminal Division. She said teaming up makes perfect sense because the organizations have so much in common. “When I reflect on the FBI’s core values, I think about my first set of core values—the Girl Scout Promise and Law,” said Walton, who serves on the Girl Scouts national board of directors. “They have been my compass most of my life. I count myself extremely fortunate to have been called to serve these iconic American institutions.”
Ráchel is a lifetime member of Girl Scouts and has been a volunteer for nearly 20 years. Her husband is a retired special agent, and three of their kids are Girl Scouts. While posted to the FBI’s legal attaché office in Paris, Ráchel served on the board of USA Girl Scouts Overseas, which delivers the organization’s leadership experience to the daughters of U.S. military, foreign service, and expat families around the world.
“Girl Scouts are excited to learn from FBI agents—who are both experts in the field and use STEM to make a difference every day,” said Suzanne Harper, senior director of National Programs and Partnerships for Girl Scouts of the USA. “We are truly excited to formally expand this powerful partnership between our organizations and for Girl Scouts across the country to explore STEM careers and cybersecurity through badge activities led by FBI field agents in their communities.”
Under the new collaboration, community outreach specialists in the FBI’s 56 field offices will work with local Girl Scouts councils to offer speakers and presentations on subjects within Girl Scouts’ current cybersecurity programming, where Girl Scouts can earn badges based on their grade level (K-12).
FBI biologist Tiffany Thoren said it was outreach like that that exposed her years ago to the possibilities of blending her love of science with criminal justice. She grew up being an active Girl Scout in rural Central Kansas and got her first microscope when she was 6 or 7. But there wasn’t much visibility about careers until she was in 6th grade and got a tour of a police lab.
“From that point forward, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” said Thoren, who works with forensic labs that participate in the FBI’s national DNA database through the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a program that is used to share DNA profiles across U.S., as well as federal law enforcement agencies and the Department of Defense. “That one moment in time changed my life, because that gave me exactly the focus of what I wanted to do for a career.”
She said events like the STEM festival—with attendees from across the country—might provide a welcome spark for someone else like her. “I want them to see there’s a place for them in the Bureau no matter what their interests are,” Thoren said.
Embroidered FBI seal Girl Scouts patch
Cynthia Kaiser, who leads a cadre of intelligence personnel in FBI’s Cyber Division and is a Girl Scout troop leader at home, said Girl Scouts provides a great low-risk environment for learning new things and giving back to the community. “I’m biased,” she said, “but I think the girls in my troop have the most fun with STEM activities—learning about and looking at the stars, becoming cyber investigators, inventing new things, and collecting data as citizen scientists to share across the country. I am thrilled that the FBI is working with Girl Scouts of the USA to help turn my daughter and girls everywhere into tomorrow’s STEM leaders.”
Forensic examiner Candie Shegogue joined her FBI Laboratory colleagues Thoren and Edwards on the festival panel because she wanted to expose kids to more ways to use their STEM skills.
“I want them to see there’s a place for them in the Bureau no matter what their interests are.”
Tiffany Thoren, biologist, FBI Laboratory
“At such a young age, they’re trying to figure out what they want to do in life,” said Shegogue, who started her career as a molecular biologist and worked in law enforcement and academia before joining the Bureau. “I was just really happy to give them a glimpse into what we do day-to-day. Hopefully we inspired a few girls to go into forensics or into the FBI.”
Shegogue said the Bureau’s mission adds another dimension when kids are considering the direction they want to go, echoing others’ sentiments about how the FBI’s values line up with Girl Scouts’—like the promise to “help people at all times.”
“Although we’re scientists,” Shegogue said, “we’re also really passionate about helping victims of crime and their families. Hopefully we got that across and inspired a few girls to go to look at the FBI when they are old enough to go into college and make that choice.”