UWM students help Girl Scouts boost their ‘courage, confidence and character’

Though the Girl Scouts of Wisconsin are often associated with their seasonal cookie sales, their greater mission is to develop the “3 C’s” in young girls: courage, confidence and character. UWM students of the College of Health Sciences wanted to help.

The students, who are first-year members of the Master of Science in Occupational Therapy program at UWM,  began their work with the Girl Scouts through service learning, a UWM initiative that requires students in certain classes to complete community service to aid in classroom learning by developing leadership skills and an interest in civic engagement.

Four women sitting on a couch flash the Girl Scouts' sign.
Alicia Sandoval (from left), Paige Aschenbrener, Olivia Wilwert and Carolyn Kusel all worked with Girl Scouts at building confidence and knowledge. (Contributed photo)

For five weeks beginning in October 2018, two UWM students, Alicia Sandoval and Carolyn Kusel, worked closely with a small group of middle school students on self-empowerment and redefining beauty through Dove’s Free Being Me Program with the Girl Scouts of Southeastern Wisconsin. At the end of the program, the students helped the Girl Scouts create a video encapsulating the confidence-building skills emphasized throughout their weeks together.

“I felt like we created a safe space for them to speak their minds,” Kusel said. “I recall being their age and feeling uncomfortable in my own skin, so it was important to me to work to break down some of the conventional beauty standards that I felt at their age.”

Through short video clips comprised of just three words, each of the girls reported on what they learned about themselves and others through the program.

“Kind, caring and beautiful,” one Scout described herself.

At the end, the final video compiled the Scouts’ uplifting self-descriptions developed through the help of the UWM students.

“Everyone is different, and they’re all beautiful in their own way,” said another Scout.

By the end, it was clear that messages of confidence and self-acceptance were at the forefront of the program. Words such as “beautiful” and “unique” were running themes among the Scouts’ reflections.

“They showed each other compassion and empathy and listened to one another’s stories and insecurities,” said Kusel.

‘Think Like an Engineer’

Two other UWM students, Olivia Wilwert and Paige Aschenbrener, led the Think Like an Engineer Program, an initiative aimed at increasing interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in kindergarten through fifth-graders by using hands-on design challenges. Through projects such as creating catapults, paper airplanes and of course slime, members of the Girl Scouts were introduced to the possibilities of STEM-related careers.

Though service learning was required through the students’ Professional Development course at UWM, the volunteers found a passion for helping the young girls.

“All of us agree that our Girl Scouts grew immensely in the 3 C’s — courage, confidence and character — after our five weeks of working with them,” Aschenbrener said.

Sandoval, Kusel, Wilwert and Aschenbrener were recognized as the January Highlights for UWM’s Center for Community-Based Learning, Leadership, and Research, which helped coordinate the volunteer opportunity.

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