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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  K-12 education

Girl Scouts to bring STEM Mobile to rural troops

By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Revew

The Girl Scouts of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho have added a STEM Mobile to their fleet, with the mission of the customized van to visit the remote corners of the council to bring STEM activities to troops wherever they may live.

The van was the idea of CEO Brian Newberry, said Chief Operating Officer Renee Smock. It came after lengthy discussions on how to increase programming available to Girl Scouts.

“STEM just kept coming up to the top of the list,” Smock said.

Newberry said the Girl Scouts are committed to getting as many girls involved in STEM as possible.

“STEM is an important part of our girls’ future, and we want to at least expose them to it,” he said.

While preparations are underway for a STEM/maker space room at Girl Scouts headquarters in north Spokane, Newberry said he knew that it wouldn’t serve the entire council, which is spread across 65,000 square miles in 29 counties in two states.

“The biggest challenge for us as a council is that we’re spread out,” he said.

The van will be based in Cle Elum, Washington. It will be driven around Eastern Washington and North Idaho by a former middle school science teacher, who will run the STEM program out of it. It will visit Spokane as part of its route, but its first stop will be in Sunnyside this weekend, followed by Pasco, Walla Walla and Sandpoint on subsequent weekends.

“The mission of our STEM Mobile is really to reach our more rural areas,” Smock said.

Newberry raised $50,000 from sponsors to pay for the van. He said the companies and organizations he contacted were excited to help with the project.

“This was the easiest fundraising I’ve ever done,” he said.

The van was supposed to be on the road much earlier. It was ordered in November 2019 and supposed to arrive for its final customization in April 2020. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“Ford stopped all production on it’s transit vans and switched to respirators,” Newberry said.

The van finally arrived last fall, but needed to be customized. Solar panels were installed on the roof to create electricity stored in a bank of batteries. That means the van can be used to operate virtual reality equipment and electronic microscopes and power a water heater without having to be plugged into an electrical outlet.

“The van is completely self-sufficient for electricity,” Newberry said. “it’s a scientific wonder in itself.”

The van is outfitted with custom cabinets, storage and a sink. It will carry tablets to be used for coding and robotics equipment. It will also be fully stocked for a variety of scientific experiments. Newberry said he was excited when the van was officially dedicated last week.

“I think this puts us on turbo drive,” he said. “I’m excited for the future, and I’m excited for the girls.”

The van is much more than a mobile classroom, he said.

“The excitement when the girls run outside and peek inside the van, it’s phenomenal,” he said. “This is just a little bit magical.”

Girl Scouts who participate in STEM programming at the van will be given a specially designed patch.

“It is one cool patch,” Newberry said.

Newberry said he’s pleased that the van will be on the road one week after its dedication.

“We’re letting no grass grow under our shoes,” he said.

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