The Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) announced today a new partnership with Raytheon, an innovator in the cybersecurity space, to further the organization’s objective to encourage young women to develop skills in science, technology, engineering, and math, aka STEM. The pair is teaming up to launch the GSUSA’s first national computer science program and coding challenge for girls in middle and high school. According to the official release, “the program aims to prepare girls in grades 6-12 to pursue computer science careers in fields such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, robotics, and data science.”

The Girl Scouts are certainly no stranger to the development of STEM skills in young women. The organization partnered with SETI Institute earlier this year to help increase girls’ interest in STEM fields. They also launched 23 new badges in July, which included several that are earned by working toward STEM-specific skills. Their latest joint initiative with Raytheon promises to take this effort a step further by providing Girl Scouts with the tools they need to develop professional skills in coding and cybersecurity.

The ‘Think Like a Programmer’ journey

Raytheon will serve as the inaugural sponsor of GSUSA’s computational thinking program, called “Think Like a Programmer.” Raytheon will create age-appropriate content and STEM experiences to help girls pick up the core competencies and essential problem-solving skills necessary to excel in computer science. The partnership will also offer an opportunity for girls to apply their new skills in a Cyber Challenge focused on coding.

Sylvia Acevedo, CEO of GSUSA, says, “We are excited to be working with Raytheon and tapping into its expertise in computer science and cybersecurity to develop this important new content for our middle and high school-age girls. We are the girl experts, and have been for 105 years. With Raytheon’s support, we will inspire millions of girls to explore STEM careers and realize their full potential.”

The first phase of Think Like a Programmer will run early 2018 as a pilot in select areas. Full nationwide implementation is expected to begin fall 2018. The Cyber Challenge will take place in 2019 and will include select Girl Scout councils.

A problem worth solving

According to the Generation STEM report by the Girl Scout Research Institute, 74 percent of teen girls are interested in entering STEM fields, but their interest fades as they move through middle and high school. GSUSA believes this drop in interest is caused by a lack of STEM coursework that speaks to young women and inspires their career ambitions.

The result of this trend is reflected in the low representation of women in science and engineering. Female professionals account for just 29 percent of people in science and engineering occupations. This lack of diversity is concerning for many reasons. Perhaps the most important concern is that computer scientists have the power to innovate the world as we know it, and we currently only have a small percentage of women representing their needs and interests as key players in AI, robotics, and data science innovation.

Raytheon chairman and chief executive officer Tom Kennedy says, “The progress to diversify the STEM workforce needs to be accelerated. At a time when technology is transforming the way we live and work, we can — and should — show young women a clear path to taking an active role in this transformation. Working together, Raytheon and Girl Scouts will help girls build confidence to see themselves as the robotics engineers, data scientists and cybersecurity professionals who will create a better tomorrow.”

Will it work?

One program won’t solve the entire issue of engaging more women in STEM roles alone, but this initiative stands to make a significant impact. The Girl Scouts release cites the Millennial Cyber Security Survey, which found that most millennial women reported they would have been more interested in a cybersecurity career had they been given access to more STEM information, classes, and training during middle and high school. If a lack of effective STEM learning programs and practical applications for girls is the issue, the joint efforts of Girl Scouts and Raytheon certainly have a good shot at helping more young women enter computer science roles in the future.

Cosette Jarrett is the guest post editor of the AI and Transportation channels at VentureBeat.