New Girl Scout Badges Offer Different Choices To Smart Cookies

Oct 12, 2011
Originally published on October 13, 2011 11:10 am

Today on All Things Considered, Alisha Niehaus of the Girl Scouts of the USA talks to host Guy Raz about a big update: For the first time in a quarter-century, they've completely overhauled the system of badges that Scouts can earn.

There are badges that haven't changed much — in a press release, the organization calls the Cook, Athlete and Naturalist badges "as relevant today as they were in 1912." But Digital Movie Maker? Website Designer? Geocacher? Locavore? Yes, the times they are a-changing. (Try not to panic at the thought that a Brownie — she'll be somewhere between 6 and 9 years old — can earn a badge called "Computer Expert.")

Some of the changes aren't entirely about changing the subject matter; they're about adjusting the approach. For example, what used to be a Fashion, Fitness and Makeup badge has been changed, because Niehaus says that while the girls in the program are still interested in makeup and fashion, that interest isn't limited to how things will look, but goes a little deeper. So there will be a badge in the Science & Technology category called The Science Of Style, which will focus on things like the chemistry of sunscreen or perhaps even making your own perfume.

There's also a badge within the Innovation series called Product Designer, which Niehaus calls "the intersection of design and business." Girls working on that badge might try to improve the functionality of backpack straps or improve the design of a cell-phone case.

Girl Scouts keeping track of the bottom line will also have the opportunity to earn Financial Literacy badges in which, as a girl works her way up from Daisy to Ambassador, she can earn badges like Money Manager, Budgeting, Financing My Future, and Good Credit. And yes, there are plenty of cookie-related badges: Meet My Customers, Business Plan, and Customer Loyalty, among others.

Perhaps the most intriguing-sounding new badge is one called The Science Of Happiness. Developed with help from a psychology researcher, it calls on girls to work for one month on a strategy generally believed to increase personal happiness — Niehaus suggests, for instance, being forgiving towards others — and then evaluating its effects on their psychological well-being.

Ultimately, Girl Scouts of the USA hopes the new badges, developed in consultation with girls in the program, continue to help girls customize their own projects. "You can make your Girl Scouting experience what you want it to be," she says.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

Don't panic. They are not changing the Dosie Does or the Samoas. And you can still get your Thin Mints, but the Girl Scouts are updating their badges. It's been nearly a quarter century since the last big overhaul, and the world has changed. So time to add digital filmmaking, local food awareness and, of course, the Science of Happiness.

Joining me to talk about these changes and the skills required for some of these new badges is Alicia Niehaus. She's from the Girl Scouts of The USA and she was involved with the redesign.

Alicia, welcome.

ALICIA NIEHAUS: Thank you.

RAZ: OK. So the Fashion, Fitness and Makeup badge is out. It's being replaced by the Science of Style badge.

NIEHAUS: Yes, indeed.

RAZ: So what's the difference?

NIEHAUS: So girls now are delving into not just what does makeup do, how do I look in it, but really looking at the science of it. So they'll look at the chemistry of sunscreen, what does SPF mean. They might try making their own perfume. It's a lot of fun stuff in there

RAZ: How did you determine which badges were outdated and what new badges should be offered?

NIEHAUS: We asked girls.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NIEHAUS: And we're really a girl-led, girl-driven organization. So we went to the girls and we said, what are you interested in learning, what do you think will prepare you for success, and what do you want and need for the next century? So that's how we got all our new categories.

RAZ: OK. Let's talk about some of these new badges. Public Policy.

NIEHAUS: Yes.

RAZ: What does that look like? What does that badge look like?

NIEHAUS: That's the badge for our 11th and 12th graders, our Girl Scout Ambassadors. And it's a chance for them to look at how laws are made in their communities, to kind of go behind the scenes, maybe do an internship with a lawmaker and just get a sense of, you know, how things happen in government and what they might want to advocate for, what they might want to be involved in, in their lives.

RAZ: Oh, product Design.

NIEHAUS: That's one of my favorites. That's actually in our Innovation Badge category, which is a totally new category. And these are really - can be intersection of design and business and getting girls to think critically about the objects around them. Maybe they want to make an exciting new backpack. What is something that could improve a strap, or do they want an extra holder for their cell phones, really looking critically at the things around them, which I think is something that girls love to get through Girl Scouting.

RAZ: I'm especially curious about this Science of Happiness Badge. This was, I understand, developed with the help of Martin Seligman. He's a positive psychology researcher at the University of Pennsylvania.

NIEHAUS: Mm-hmm. Who does want to be happy, right?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NIEHAUS: Who doesn't want to know what makes them happy? And that's really an opportunity for girls to sort of be the test subject in the laboratory of their lives.

RAZ: How would you earn the Science of Happiness badge? I mean, how would you prove it? You just have to be happy?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NIEHAUS: Well, you get to go over the course of a month, and try on a new thing. Like, if you forgive people in your life, that's something that's supposed to make you happier. So you can try forgiving a few people and see do you, in fact, feel happier? And you also get a chance to see what makes people around you happy, to look at, sort of psychology research methods, design and experiments, asked pointed questions.

RAZ: That's a lot of pressure.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NIEHAUS: Well, I think one of the great things about the badges is there's quite a lot of flexibility in them, so I don't think any girl will have the same experience in a badge. She can really decide what part of the Science of Happiness particularly interests her; whether she's more interested in the personal experience, whether she's a budding psychologist.

So I think that's one of the great things about our badges is we give girls a chance to develop skills to make their lives and other lives better in whatever way means the most to them.

RAZ: I mean, back in my day, it was like, you know, First Aid, sportsmanship. Now you got to be like a website designer, a digital filmmaker just to be a Girl Scout?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NIEHAUS: I think you can do all of those things. That's really one of the most exciting things is you can make your Girl Scouting experience what you want it to be.

RAZ: But you can still get a badge for First Aid and sportsmanship and cooking, and things like that.

NIEHAUS: You absolutely can. Yup. One of my favorite sort of new twists on those Legacy badges, they call them, is ambassadors who want to have a dinner party can look into molecular gastronomy, which...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NIEHAUS: ...I'm a huge fan of. They don't have to, but it's a cool science kind of thing to look at when you're also figuring out how to time all those dishes, what kind of menu you want, maybe taking a tour of a local restaurant.

RAZ: That's Alicia Niehaus. She's with the Girl Scouts of the USA, talking about the new badges, the first redesign in nearly a quarter century.

Alicia, thanks.

NIEHAUS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.