HRG’s Erin Letavic shows the value in being a STEM problem solver

A civil engineering senior project manager in Dauphin County shares her journey in STEM.

By Catherine Amoriello

Erin Letavic, Civil Engineering Senior Project Manager at Herbert, Rowland & Grubic Inc. (HRG)
Erin Letavic, Civil Engineering Senior Project Manager at Herbert, Rowland & Grubic, Inc. (HRG)

STEM – we see this word everywhere nowadays, and for good reason. Nearly everything we use is a result of one or all of the components of STEM – science, technology, engineering and math. We can thank a STEM professional for the bridges we drive over, the apps we tap on our phones and even the food we eat every day. Its prevalence in our society is a leading factor for why STEM is one of the four pillars of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience (GSLE).

With so many opportunities to learn and foster an interest in STEM fields, it may be surprising to learn that women and girls are underrepresented across all levels of the STEM pipeline. But Erin Letavic, a former Girl Scout and a Civil Engineering Senior Project Manager at Herbert, Rowland & Grubic, Inc. (HRG) based in Harrisburg, proves girls and women can and should have a seat at the table in STEM fields.

Letavic has been with HRG for 15 years and offers experience in engineering and consulting, focusing on municipal services, grant funding solutions and stormwater permitting. Her position as project manager has provided her the opportunity to lead a team and share the importance of her team’s work with the community.

Erin Letavic planting trees.
Letavic participates in a tree planting activity.

“A lot of these projects take multiple years to come to fruition. It takes some fortitude to keep things on track,” Letavic said. “You end up doing a lot of storytelling. I enjoy building the team and also conveying the reason behind the improvement and benefit to the local community.”

With a role that’s very client-focused, Letavic also spends a lot of time working with others to develop solutions for water-related problems.

“I tend to be more focused on strategy. I talk with clients about typical water issues that they have, or partners they have that have those issues and they want to help. I help them develop strategies to work through those issues and fundraise for solutions to help solve the problems,” Letavic said.

Letavic is a natural problem solver who has always had a desire to understand how things work. As someone who grew up having to do many tasks manually, such as hand-drawing maps for projects, but now having the luxury of digital tools to accomplish those same tasks faster, Letavic feels she brings a different perspective to problem solving. Through her assistance with LandscapeU, a National Science Foundation Research Traineeship at Penn State University, Letavic has identified a lack of initiative to problem solve which she credits to most of society having answers at their fingertips through phones and computers.

“I’ve noticed with these students, and I’d bet it happens with Girl Scouts as well, in society we’ve been accustomed to just looking the answer up,” Letavic said. “The majority of STEM problems are not straight forward. You might know math, you might know the chemistry, but when we’re trying to solve really complex STEM problems, rarely is there one right answer. I think we can be most successful doing a small project, or even solving climate change, by coming up with an answer and being ready to defend it.”

Brownie Girl Scout.
Letavic as a Brownie Girl Scout.

Letavic believes learning through STEM and developing STEM skills is important for girls because it will teach them how to problem solve independently, a skill that will prove valuable to girls interested in a future STEM career. For girls leaning toward an engineering career path, Letavic advises to be practical and remember that every level of engineering work is important in the big picture.

“There’s a lot of jobs in STEM and I think a lot of us get stuck in the advanced areas,” Letavic said. “We still need people interested in computer programming and AutoCAD work. If I had a wish, [it would be] more engineering students would come out wanting to do more traditional engineering work.”

Girl Scouts provides endless opportunities for girls to get involved in STEM. From coding robots to exploring math in nature to learning forensic science elements, there’s a hands-on activity for all girls. Visit the GSHPA Events webpage to explore all STEM and STEAM events.

Catherine Amoriello is a Marketing and Communications Coordinator specializing in writing and editing for Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania. Reach her by email at camoriello@gshpa.org.

New Year, New STEAM Activities

By Colleen Buck

Happy New Year Girl Scouts! With cold winter weather comes spending more time indoors. But time indoors doesn’t have to be boring! Try out these fun Winter Science Experiments to embrace the winter weather inside.

Create Fake Snow

You will need:

  • A deep baking dish or foil baking dish
  • 3 cups baking soda
  • ½ cup white conditioner

Instructions:

  1. Mix ½ cup conditioner with 3 cups baking soda
  2. Mix until well blended and moldable texture is achieved

Snowball Launchers

This project can be found on the Little Bins for Little Hands site, and is a great experiment in physics for girls of all ages. Girls will learn about Newton’s 3 laws of motion by creating force using the balloon, testing acceleration when different amounts of force are used, and finding that with our actions in this experiment there will be equal and opposite reaction.

Snow Volcano

You will need:

  • 2 spoonful’s of baking soda
  • 1 spoonful dish soap
  • A few drops of food coloring of your choice (red makes a good lava color)
  • 30 ml vinegar
  • Spoon
  • Snow
  • Small container

Instructions:

  1. Add everything except the vinegar to the container and stir well.
  2. Carefully shape a volcano around the container using snow – don’t forget to leave the opening of the volcano at the top!
  3. Add your vinegar through the opening and watch as the volcano erupts! For a larger eruption, add more dish soap, stir, then pour more vinegar.

How does this work?

Vinegar is an acid, and when mixed with baking soda (an alkali) they react together to neutralize each other. This reaction releases carbon dioxide, a gas, which is the bubbles that you see. The bubbles of gas make the dish soap bubble up to make a thick “lava”!

Reindeer Pipe Cleaner Circuit

Karyn at the Teach Beside Me blog shows readers how to create a reindeer circuit This electrical circuit project is perfect for the season, and teaches that an electrical circuit is made up of a source of electrical power, wires that can carry the current, and a light bulb. It is also a great way for girls to experiment with what happens when the circuit is intact versus broken.

Home Grown Crystals

You will need:

  • Borax, sugar or salt
  • Water
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Wooden spoon
  • String
  • Tall glass or mason jar

Instructions:

  1. First use your pipe cleaners to make shapes. Simple shapes work best, such as hearts, spirals or circles. Tie your shape to a wooden spoon that is longer than the opening to the glass or jar you will use.
  2. Pick whether you will use borax, sugar or salt.
  3. Boil a couple cups of water (WITH ADULT SUPERVISION). Add your crystal substance (borax, salt or sugar) until it dissolves. Then add more….and more….and more! You will be making this a supersaturated solution, which means that you will keep adding your substance and letting it dissolve. You will know that you have added enough when a small bit remains at the bottom of the pot/jar that will not dissolve.
  4. Once your supersaturated solution is ready, pour it carefully into the glass or jar, leaving about an inch at the top. If you would like to add color you can add a few drops of food coloring.
  5. Add your wooden spoon to the top of the glass/jar with the pipe cleaner shapes hanging in the solution. Make sure the shape does not touch the bottom of the container.
  6. Borax will make the crystals grow quickly, sugar takes about a week to fully form, and salt will take a few days.

This project is a great way to develop an experiment to see how the different substances react and what other variables such as sunlight or fans blowing air might do to the crystal growing process!

Don’t forget to document your experiments with pictures and send them in to us as a Mission Moment!

Colleen is a Program Coordinator for GSHPA

STEAM Saturday Robotics

At the beginning of December the GSHPA Program Team ran our STEAM Saturday Robotics program, and we had so much fun! Girls from across council joined us at Camp Small Valley and we got to not only learn about robots, but also design our own robots! Daisy through Junior Girl Scouts got to learn about coding with Botley the Robot, while older Girl Scouts had the chance to build and code their QScout Robots. If you missed our December STEAM Saturday Robotics, we would love to see you in February at Camp Happy Valley or Camp Archbald. We will have a morning and an afternoon session each day, and everyone is welcome to reserve time on property overnight or spend the day at camp!

In the New Year

Can you believe it is already the middle of December Girl Scouts? This year has flown by and we have had some incredible programs and events. Since October 1st we have had more than 53 programs with our Program and Outdoor team, and it has been so exciting to be able to add in-person events to that lineup! As we end 2021 and look to welcome in the New Year we have even more programs to share with you coming up in 2022.

The first event of the year is actually an ongoing one. 2022 will be spent celebrating the 110th anniversary of Girl Scouts!

Girl Scouts Donate to the Juliette Low Birthday Fund, 1946

Juliette Gordon Lowe began Girl Scouts with just 18 girls in 1912, and we have grown to 2.5 MILLION Girl Scouts today, and that is just in the USA! Keep an eye out for some exciting events to celebrate throughout next year on our event calendar.

To kickoff this celebratory year, we have a jam packed schedule coming up in January. We are so excited to host another Virtual Volunteer Conference on January 15th. This is open to all volunteers, and registration is live. This year we have many more sessions to enjoy and you will have access to ALL the recorded sessions afterwards.  In addition to a swag bag for conference participants, you will receive an exclusive code to use at the GSHPA Retail shop!

Girls can dive into the New Year by joining us for a number of great programs. Check out the exciting opportunities below:

Badge Days

January brings both in person and virtual badge opportunities, including Cookie Entrepreneur badges and Outdoor Experience badges. Take a look at all we are offering and register on our event calendar.

STEAM with the Program Team

Our fan favorite program continues! Join the Program Team every Wednesday for new and exciting STEAM activities, from Lego Masters to Pixel People and Master Chef, STEAM with the Program Team has something everyone will love.

STEAM Saturdays

Come get outdoors with the Program Team to get Wild with Animals! We will offer this program at two different camp properties in January, Camp Small Valley and Camp Furnace Hills. Each program will also offer a morning and afternoon session for girls to choose from. Register on our event calendar today, and come ready to get WILD!


We hope everyone has a wonderful December, and we cannot wait to see you all at programs in January to bring in 2022 with a bang! Take a look at the event calendar for more events, and let us know in the comments which programs you’re most looking forward to!

December 2021 Calendar

Happy December Girl Scouts! As we head into the holiday season we have a lot of fun programs for girls and adults on the calendar. We have a few of these fabulous programs highlighted below, and you can visit our online calendar for more programs offered all month.

Financial Literacy Nights

Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania is excited to offer three financial literacy nights for Daisies through Ambassadors! JIF vs Skippy: Making Good Money Choices, How to Pay for that Malibu Beach House, and Let’s take Charge! Understanding Your Credit will be led by Becky MacDicken from the Department of Banking and Securities, these three programs will touch on making good money choices, managing goals and money, and understanding credit. Visit our Event Calendar to register for each level’s program.

Robotics at Camp Small Valley

This month girls can join the Program team at Camp Small Valley for a day all about ROBOTS! We will be designing, programming and building new robots as we learn about what makes a robot and why they are important. This program has a morning and afternoon session available for Daisy, Brownie, Juniors, and Cadettes. Visit our Event Calendar to register.

STEM Career Exploration Badge Workshops

Brownies, Juniors and Cadettes can join us for STEM Career Exploration Nights this December. Girls will explore their interests and discover how those interests can become a career in the future. We will dive into six different STEM fields and learn how careers in those fields are making the world a better place. Girls will also create a career path and brainstorm ways they can follow their path and motivate themselves. Visit our Event Calendar to register.

And so many more!

We have many more programs in December that range from outdoor adventures to STEAM with the Program Team. 

Don’t forget to take a look at our January events coming up too! We have a full schedule in January, including cookie badges, Troop Adventure opportunities and more. Check it out on our  council calendar to find the program that is right for you. 

If there are older girls that want to be involved in the activities we are hosting- please reach out to Dana Taylor at dtaylor@gshpa.org and we can connect you to ways you can volunteer!

2021 Holiday Gift Guide

This season the GS Shop has some new and fun items for the girls in your life.

We are excited to be rereleasing our in-house website!  Check out our new QuickFlip Hoodies. From the playground to the park, kids lose their hoodies when they take them off and don’t know what to do with them. Using our patented Quikflip® conversion technology, every lightweight kids’ Hero Hoodie transforms into a functional backpack in a matter of seconds, so there is always an easy (and cool) way to carry it, regardless of the weather! The QuickFlip Hoodies also come in ADULT SIZES!!

There are sales going on, $5.95 shipping and tons of gift ideas for the people in your life.

The Black Friday Sale is a continuation of the current up to 50% off select items, plus further discounts on select items from the categories below:                                         

  • Up to 25% off Puzzles
  • Up to 25% off Sports & Family Games
  • Up to 25% off Arts & Crafts
  • Up to 25% off STEM Activity Kits                                                                                                                                                                                                                         =

Here are a few of our favorites gadgets, gear, and games and make sure to explore more choices at our online store!

Gifts Under $10

Gifts Under $25

Gifts Under $50

Gifts Under $100

What’s on your list? Let us know in the comments what items you have on your wish lists!

Women in STEAM: Dr. Joe Hill-Kittle, NASA

By Liz Bleacher

Today we are talking with Dr. Joanne (Joe) Hill-Kittle, Deputy Director Engineering and Technology Directorate at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Dr. Joe and I have been communicating back and forth for a while now for GSHPA events, she has joined us to talk engineering and space a few times and we thought it would be fun to get a little more in-depth about what inspired her to get into STEM.

GSHPA: First and most important questions, when did you first become interested in STEM? Bonus points if you were in Girl Scouts. Was there a moment where you knew you were going to go into STEM?

Dr. Joe: I have a clear memory of sitting on the gate to the farmers field across from my house with my best friend at the age of 7 stating I wanted to be the first woman on the moon. I remember being worried that by the time I was old enough lots of people would be at the moon. Now I hope to play a part (however small) of putting the first women and first person of colour on the moon. I knew this dream would mean I would have to study hard in STEM. I was a Brownie and a Girl Guide (kind of a UK equivalents to Girl Scouts) for many years and learnt a lot about leadership and perseverance which helped me on my path.

GSHPA: With your early start with STEM and dreams of the moon, what is your favorite memory of STEM at school?

Dr. Joe: It’s hard to say as I loved all the classes that were STEM. I was good at Maths, so I always enjoyed those classes and projects. In one class we were devising an experiment to measure the acceleration of a rocket and then launching the rocket to test it which was really cool.

Dr. Joe studying early on in her STEM life.

GSHPA: What is your current career and how do you use your interests on a day-to-day basis?

Dr. Joe: I trained on the edge of Physics and Engineering, building and designing instruments for new missions. This got me started in the Science area and just recently I move to help lead the Engineering organization. My job now is to help decide what technologies are needed to answer science questions of the future, like are we alone and to help understand our own planet. All of this is fascinating, looking for answers to questions.

Dr. Joe Hill-Kittle at the launch site (Cape Canaveral) for the Magnetic Multiscale Mission (MMS)

GSHPA: Working with rockets, and new technology is pretty exciting for us to hear about. What gets you excited about what you do?

Dr. Joe: Who doesn’t like launching rockets, trying to save the planet and learning about the whole universe? I love all of it. We get to design missions that will help us understand climate change and provide early disaster warnings for fires and hurricanes, missions that will help us understand the very beginnings of the universe and search for other Earth’s outside of our Solar System, build instruments that will look for life on planets in our solar system and help us understand our Sun.

GSHPA: What is your favorite thing about your current job and what do you find the most challenging?

Dr. Joe: My favourite thing is thinking about what we can do in the future and how we get there. The biggest challenge is bringing change to a big organization. It can be very slow and frustrating but if you have a team around you to rally each other on, it can also be very rewarding when you start to see the results of your efforts.

Dr. Joe standing in front of the James Webb Space Telescope at Goddard, which will launch in December of this year.

GSHPA: Girls are facing challenges and successes every day in their STEM journeys. What advice would you give to girls interested in a career in STEM?

Dr. Joe: Study hard, look for opportunities like internships to get some experience so you can figure out what you like and don’t like and what interests you.

GSHPA: What can we do to have more girls/women in science like you?

Dr. Joe: Dream big! Encourage each other. Believe in yourselves. I was fortunate to have mentors encouraging me along the way. Look for opportunities and encourage girls and women to apply.

GSHPA: For girls who are now starting in STEM, what skills will help them in their journeys?

Dr. Joe: There are so many opportunities for everyone at NASA, from turning wrenches, writing software to model the Earth, building instruments. One of the common skills that is important, and you will get from Girl Scouts is team leadership and building teams. Understanding how to listen to everyone’s inputs before making a decision. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room but you do have to be smart enough and open enough to listen and value everyone’s ideas to get the best solutions

GSHPA: How does your work at NASA and in the community, help encourage more diversity in STEM fields?

Dr. Joe: I hope by sharing my story people will see their own opportunity. I also spend time advocating for diverse applicant pools for opportunities and look for leadership opportunities for minorities to get the experience needed to move into more senior positions.

GSHPA: Would you say that the environment has changed since you started in STEM? What would be different for girls now?

Dr. Joe: There are already more women in STEM than when I started and that’s great. There is also recognition that barriers do exist, and we need to break them down. We are not done yet but at least there is awareness of the challenges so we can start to address them.

GSHPA: What message do you have for girls and women in STEM?

Dr. Joe: Don’t hold back, you can do more than you think!

GSHPA: Thank you Dr. Joe we look forward to watching the launch of the the James Webb Space Telescope this December and thinking about all the things we steps we can take to do fun and exciting things in the STEM world.

Celebrating STEM, one social post at a time

By Cathy Hirko

It’s exciting to learn about women in your community who love their careers and are happy to share a part of themselves with us.

With National STEM Day on Monday, we are celebrating the day by highlighting just those very women on our social media channels.

Look for a series of profiles of these women on our social media channels on Monday.

Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania and the PA Chamber Foundation have partnered up to share some brief snippets of information from women who have successful and fulfilling careers in STEM in our state.

STEM is one of the four pillars of Girl Scouts, so anytime we can highlight and share the good work of women loving and learning in their STEM careers, it’s important for us to do so. You have to see it, to be it, good leaders say.

So, keep an eye out on GSHPA’s social media channels, in particular our Facebook pages and LinkedIn pages, on Monday. We’ve never done a campaign like this before and we are excited to be a part of it.

Starting at 8 a.m., we are going to be sharing posts at the top of every hour of some local career voices in STEM. Look for them and, please, share them on your social channels.

If there is a young girl in your life who is interested in a STEM career, we are happy to give this snapshot of what it’s like in the real world.

The women pictured above are among the women who will be sharing a little bit about their careers on Monday.

Look for these hashtag on all the posts: #PAWomeninSTEM.

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Cathy Hirko is the marketing and communications director for the Girl Scoucouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania. Reach her by email: chirko@gshpa.org.

GSHPA Spy School

This month Girls Scouts at GSHPA took the opportunity to meet at some of our beautiful properties to attend Spy School! Well not real spy school, rather one of our STEAM Mobile programs during the STEAM Saturday event. This month the girls strengthened their observation skills, learning about finger prints, handwriting, and cyphers. They ended the day working as a team to solve the clues and “break out”.

We have more programs coming, in December we will be focused on Robots at Camp Small Valley, in January we are Wild About Animals at Camp Furnace Hills and Camp Small Valley. Please visit our website to learn more and register.

October GSHPA Programs

GSHPA has a full calendar for you this month!  We have two amazing programs for girls and volunteers highlighted in this post and you can visit our online calendar for more programs offered all month.

Troop Adventure Days

Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania is proud to offer not one, but two Troop Adventure Days for Daisies, Brownies, and Juniors! Hosted on two of our beautiful camp properties, Camp Small Valley in Dauphin County and Camp Happy Valley in Adams County.

Girl Scouts learn about the world around them and the connection between nature and STEM in the outdoors.

October’s Troop Adventure Days will feature a variety of fun outdoor activities: Girl Scouts will have the opportunity to learn about the science behind trees and forests on a STEM nature hike, create nature-themed wind chimes at an outdoor crafts station, practice their skills at the archery range, and much more! Visit our Event Calendar to register.

Troops have the opportunity to stay the night at camp the evening before and or after the TAD event through the property reservation.  Camp Small Valley and Camp Happy Valley both have a wonderful variety of rental options.  If you are interested please contact GSHPA Member Services at memberservice@gshpa.org.

New GS Year- New GS Badge

This fall GSHPA Program Team is going to hosting programs that allow girls to experience the NEW Digital Leadership badge sponsored by Instagram. The badge allows girls to explore what digital leadership is, how to become one, and safety first thinking skills for the internet. Girls will be part of challenges that practice being online in a safe, positive way that focuses on wellbeing and time spent.

Girl Scouts take the lead on Digital Leadership Badges online.

Every day people around the world are using the internet and technology to complete simple to complex things. The list is always growing of new ways for each girl. Our team built games and brand new activities to explore technology components that girls will be using. Many of our Girl Souts are already tech savvy and this badge will help them focus their activity and learn about their digital footprint and being a leader online.

This October we start with Daisy, Brownie, Juniors, and Cadettes. Each level meeting a different evening session during the month. Visit our Event Calendar to register.

So Much More

We have many more programs in October that range from outdoor adventures to STEAM with the Program Team.  Please take a look at our council calendar to find the program that is right for you. 

If there are older girls that want to be involved in the activities we are hosting- please reach out to Dana Taylor at dtaylor@gshpa.org and we can connect you to ways you can volunteer!