— -- The Girl Scouts of the USA has announced they are adding new badges for young girls who master various cybersecurity topics starting in the fall of 2018.
"We’re not just going to be selling cookies, we are going to become cybersecurity experts," Sylvia Acevedo, the CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA, told ABC News of the organization, adding that the new badges were part of the group's overall push to promote and foster science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education for girls.
"To be globally competitive, girls today need to know not just how to use computers but also how to program them," Acevedo said. She added, however, that the initial idea for the cybersecurity badges came from the young Girl Scout participants themselves.
"We asked the girls what they want and they said they want more STEM badges," Acevedo said. "The girls told us that they wanted cybersecurity badges."
Girl Scouts of the USA, which has 1.8 million young members, announced that they were partnering with the cybersecurity firm Palo Alto Networks to create the curriculum for girls to learn about everything from how to protect your identity online to programming and understanding hacking. Each badge that a Girl Scout earns is displayed on their individual uniform and represents that the girl has mastered a certain topic.
Mark McLaughlin, the CEO of Palo Alto Networks, said in a statement that the organization's mission to prevent cyberattacks "is only achievable if we make meaningful investments not just in technology but also in people." McLaughlin added that the partnership with Girl Scouts will help build "tomorrow's diverse and innovative team of problem solvers equipped to counter emerging cyberthreats."
Acevedo said she hopes that earning the cybersecurity Girl Scout badges can also help open doors for girls who may not otherwise be exposed to the field.
"Preparing our girls in cybersecurity really gives them a real insight into a potential career choice," Acevedo said.
"We reach deeply across America, we are in every residential zip code and almost a third of our girls are in low-income areas," Acevedo said. "We’re excited that they are going to have access to these kinds of programs. ... These kinds of programs can open up a world of opportunities."
Acevedo added that so far the response from Girl Scouts and parents in the community has been overwhelmingly positive.