Research News

Personal and professional benefits of Girl Scouts affirmed

Three Brownies
(Peyton Hoge/Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee)

Girl Scouts are living up to their promise to shape the female leaders of tomorrow, new research from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College finds.

The findings come as the organization celebrates its 100th birthday this month.

In partnership with the Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee, Peabody’s Dayle Savage and Sharon Shields conducted this research through a class they co-taught, titled “Women’s Leadership and Community Development.” Students collected surveys and conducted interviews and focus groups with current and former Girl Scouts to observe the leadership development, career aspiration, personal development and happiness that girls experience as a result of being part of the organization.

Girl Scouts with lollipops
(Peyton Hoge/Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee)

“We have confirmed for the Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee that they are living up to their mission and making a difference,” said Shields, a professor of the practice of human and organizational development and dean of professional education.

Approximately 700 current and former Girl Scouts throughout Middle Tennessee ages 5 to 18 were asked nine questions related to their experience in the organization. The study established that the Girl Scout mission, which comprises courage, confidence and character, is evident in three phases of development: the activities and programming in scouting, the leadership skills and knowledge the girls learn and the engaged sense of self they experience as a result of their involvement in Girl Scouts.

“It was interesting to see how these girls’ experiences and skill development in Girl Scouting had a dramatic impact on their sense of self,” said Savage, an assistant professor of the practice in leadership and organizations.

The study notes how leading others, teamwork and collaboration, commitment and personal development are keys to engaged leadership.

“This project was a terrific experience for us and our students,” Savage said. “We spanned at least three generations in this course: the Girls Scouts, the students and the instructors. [rquote]Through this project we witnessed how Girl Scouts continues to make a difference in women’s lives.”[/rquote]

Savage and Shields, both former Girl Scouts, hope this initial study will lead to future funding to conduct this type of research in other Girl Scout communities.

Girl Scout with patches
(Peyton Hoge/Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee)

“The 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts gave us a platform to continue our scholarship and allowed us to look at leadership in meaningful ways,” Shields said. “This project was certainly another way that Peabody College connects with the community in collaborative experiences that helps us build capacity with our community and with our classes.”

Agenia Clark, president and CEO of the Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee, presented the findings of the Peabody study to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam at a ceremony commemorating the Girl Scouts’ 100 year anniversary March 12.