Girl Scouts open doors to astronomy, knowledge

Nov 23, 2018

The Girl Scouts have expanded beyond the great outdoors to the last frontier: outer space.

Over the summer, Abby Keith, a Girl Scout in her senior year at Dartmouth High, traveled across the country for an unforgettable week of astronomy at an Oregon observatory, held in collaboration with the University of Oregon, NASA, and SETI Institute (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence).

Her trip was one of the Girl Scout’s “Destinations,” a series of educational trips around the world which scouts can apply for. The trips include everything from horseback riding to learning what it’s like to work as a firefighter or police officer.

The program she chose, called “Astronomy Adventure,” was led by the Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington and supported by a NASA grant to encourage girls to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Keith, along with nine other girls in high school, traveled from across the United States to Oregon where they drove up to the Pine Mountain Observatory in the Deschutes National Forest of Central Oregon.

The observatory was full of telescopes unlike any Keith had used before, including one that was robotic.

“You could ‘drive’ it,” Keith explained. “It could rotate around to find different galaxies and take pictures of them.”

Keith took a photo of a galaxy that had never before been photographed by that telescope.

“It was a very immersive experience,” Keith said. “The whole time we were there, we were eating lunch, but talking about the Big Bang.”

The Scouts worked closely with undergraduate students from the University of Oregon and Dr. Scott Fisher, a professor at the University.

Keith said she was proud of and surprised by her ability to keep up with everything the professor talked about. She was also very interested in the research he was able to do as a professor, which led her to consider a career in academia for the first time.

On the last day of the trip, the scouts helped out with the observatory’s open house by manning the telescopes and teaching visitors about the night sky.

Keith has been a Girl Scout since she was four years old, and in her somewhat unorthodox current troop, Troop 80117, since she was in the sixth grade. Her current troop includes girls ranging in age from sixth graders to seniors in high school, which is very unusual.

“In sixth grade I was definitely scared of the girls who were seniors,” Keith remembered. “The older girls basically ran everything and pass on the information to the younger girls.”

Now, Keith is one of the girls passing on knowledge to younger Scouts.

“You can really learn a lot from Girl Scouts, especially when you’re older,” Keith said. “It’s a lot more than arts and crafts.”

She also values the friendships she’s created with scouts in different grades.

“I really bonded with a girl who’s four years older than me, so she helped figure out the high school, and now she’s helping me with my college applications,” Keith said.

Those friendships and the many skills she’s learned through scouting have given her confidence and tools that she uses to navigate the world.

Keith said that one of her main takeaways from scouting is an assertive approach to problem solving.

“Just complaining doesn’t do anything,” Keith said. “It’s Girl Scouts that taught [me] to do something.”

She said that scouting gave her the tools to know who to talk to create a change — a valuable skill that many don’t learn.

Her troop also runs “Operation Snowflake,” a weekend long camping competition, in February each year.

Girls can become Girl Scouts at any age. To find a troop, go to the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts’ website,