Surveying is a male-dominated profession, but activities like the one put on by Jacksonville, Fla.-based surveying and mapping firm Clary & Associates is introducing females to the profession at an early age.

In May, about 50 girls from several Girl Scout troops in Jacksonville joined surveyors and mapping experts from Clary & Associates at Losco Regional Park, located just south of the city, to take part in a four-hour educational event that focused on teaching the scouts what goes into mapping properties. Each girl had the opportunity to earn a special patch for her participation. “We realized this would be the perfect opportunity for young girls to learn about the industry in general, and also how math and geometry play an important role in mapping and surveying properties,” says Greg Clary, founder and president of Clary & Associates.

“When Clary & Associates approached us about the program, we thought the idea was great, especially in light of a recent survey that showed fewer women are studying math and science when they get to college,” says Chris Brown, membership specialist with Girl Scouts of Gateway Council, representing scouts in Northeast Florida. “This could also open up a whole new direction for the girls when they are looking at future careers.”

A Challenge to Inspire

According to data released by the National Science Foundation (NSF), college-age women make up less than 20 percent of science and engineering majors. The NSF also reports that women are less likely to go into the math and science professions after graduation than their male counterparts.

“Our hope is that events like these will inspire girls to look more favorably at careers in math and science, and certainly look at surveying as one of those professions,” says Shari Schurr, Clary & Associates director of marketing. “The event was a lot of fun. We had a mix of men and women staff helping out. They enjoyed interacting and teaching the girls about what they do and how they apply math in their work.”

Schurr says the company has held similar educational events with Florida Boy Scouts in the past. Working with a local public affairs consultant, she was in the process of developing a community event promoting surveying when the topic of diversity came up. “We realized [the event] could be a great opportunity for us to take the survey training we completed with the boys and slightly adapt it for young girls,” Schurr says.

About a month before the event, Clary’s team changed park locations to ensure they had enough space to accommodate the girls. It was also essential to choose a park with topographic features that would make the event more dynamic. “Our biggest concern with the event was what the turnout would be like,” Schurr says. “We’ve provided survey and mapping programs for Boy Scouts in the past, but we weren’t sure what the response would be among the Girl Scouts. We initially worked with the Girl Scout troop nearest to our office to set up the event, but several other troops were notified. We printed about 200 badges, designed especially for the event, just in case.”

An Event Well-received

On a spring morning in May, the scouts and the team of Clary & Associates professionals convened at the park to begin the surveying lesson. The event consisted of a field survey exercise, taking the Girl Scouts through seven stations, each covering various topics, including the history of surveying, field safety, GPS technology, mapping and more. Clary & Associates assembled three-person crews to work hands-on with the scouts. As the girls moved from one station to the next, Clary personnel could see the excitement from the scouts.

“Everything was so well organized and the surveyors were so patient and considerate of the different age groups,” says scout Jennifer Engelthaler. “They were just awesome. And I learned why I always see little orange flags in the ground.”

Julia Sedgley, a 10-year-old Girl Scout, says she attended the event with her troop because she thought it would be “cool” to learn about surveying. “I learned about the history of surveying, how to survey, where to place my house and much more,” Sedgley says.

Her troop mate, 10-year-old Jackie Phillips, was also interested in learning about the profession. “I wanted to participate in the surveying event because I wanted to know what surveying was and how you do it,” Phillips says. “And I love to hang out with my friends while earning a patch or just learning something new.”

The parents and troop leaders were also pleased with the event. “My girls had the best time and enjoyed every aspect of the event,” says Shelley Hagelgans, Girl Scout leader for Junior Troop 1277. “They had fun counting their steps with the Clary crew chief who was located at the GPS station. They loved finding the chips that were hidden in different parts of the park and learning about safety and the history of surveying, and even looking at the [surveying] equipment.”

Hagelgans’ nine-year-old daughter, also named Shelley, learned a lot from her time with the Clary professionals. “I learned how water levels are measured,” she says. “I learned how to be safe from forest creatures and how the workers marked the land to separate my neighbors’ land from mine. I also learned about how the GPS backpack works. It tracks you from the satellite in the sky.”

“The event had a great turnout with great weather,” says Mary Young, one scout’s mother. “We were really excited to be doing it and we are already looking for sites for next year’s event.”

Progressing Forward

Clary & Associates took the first step toward promoting surveying to girls at an early age; the company plans to continue reaching out to young members in its community. Schurr and Clary personnel are working with the Girl Scouts of Gateway Council to identify a park located closer to the downtown Jacksonville area to help increase the number of Girl Scouts in attendance. “Losco Park is about twenty miles from downtown,” Schurr says. “Since we focused on our nearby neighborhoods this year and it was the first time we had done it, we thought it would be better to be close to the office in case we needed tools or materials. Now that we have gone through it once, I think we’ll be better prepared for next year.”

The next surveying program for the Girl Scouts is tentatively scheduled for March or April of 2008.

“Through programs like this, I hope we can make an impact in addressing and closing the math-science gender gap and hopefully encourage these young girls to enter careers in science, technology, engineering and math,” Brown says. “What the girls learn today through opportunities like these will lead to more professional opportunities for them in the future.”