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Hanna: Solar Oven Inspiration

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Last fall, my Junior Girl Scout troop built solar ovens.

Now, don’t be too impressed. They are actually quite easy to make – you just need a pizza box, some tin foil and plastic wrap, construction paper, and two straws. You can find directions on the internet.

These nine and ten year old girls had a great time doing the project and couldn’t wait to take their ovens home to see if some amplified sunlight could really grill a cheese sandwich. When we finished, I asked them, “If you liked this project, what career could you have?” My normally chatty girls just stared at me in silence. “A cook?” one of them finally said.

It was then I realized just how little these girls knew about the world of work, and what possibilities might exist for them. How about a solar engineer? Or a designer? Or running a utility company.

I told the girls about women in developing countries who die from indoor air pollution because they cook with wood or dung. “You could become a human rights activist that brings clean cooking technologies to girls in other countries,” I told them. I am not sure how much of this conversation sunk in, but from then on, after every project, I asked the same question: “What career could you have?”

When we made bath salts at the holidays for gifts, we talked about being a chemist or a marketing executive. When we made Valentines for a homeless shelter, I mentioned careers in philanthropy or social work. When we planted seeds for Mother’s Day, it was about being a botanist, or a farmer or a food activist.

I was in part inspired to do this because of Sheryl Sandberg’s now much talked-about book, Lean In , in which the Facebook executive encourages women to take on leadership roles and pursue their career passions. Yet, it was clear from Girl Scouts that they might have had plenty of will – but just didn’t know where to channel their young ambitions.

My own observations mirror the findings of a recent report by Vermont Works for Women called Enough Said! In interviews with girls 15 – 25, it found that, among other things, girls had only minimal exposure to a broad range of careers and professional female role models. So while Sandberg’s message is an important one, it won’t resonate with girls unless we intentionally make an effort to exposure them early and often to the range of possibilities that exist.

Now, even though my daughter claims that it is totally embarrassing, I always ask her friends about what careers they are considering. It’s important that we don’t just ask, but provide all kids with real information about the possibilities, shedding a little sunlight onto the otherwise really mysterious world of work that, before we know it, our kids will be entering.