WMU News

Not your average cookies

March 26, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- Developing girls into leaders takes more than selling cookies.

It requires that girls be exposed to a variety of positive people who are healthy and successful in their personal and professional lives, according to a new study two Western Michigan University researchers conducted in collaboration with Southwest Michigan's Girl Scouts of Glowing Embers Council.

The study was conducted by Dr. Wendy Zabava Ford, WMU associate professor of communication, and WMU graduate student Sarah Dempsey, in conjunction with Kathy Smyser, membership and adult development director of GSGEC, and Eileen Stryker of Stryker and Endias Inc., a research and evaluation firm in Kalamazoo. It determined what attributes current and future Girl Scout leaders and other community members need to be more effective in developing girls' potential for success.

Smyser says this study is unique because it focuses on the adults in the organization rather than the girls.

"We need to spend time training adults to develop girls," Smyser says, noting that this report will help "working parents, stay-at-home parents, or people who have never dealt with kids, easily learn what they need to know to be a Girl Scout leader or any kind of leader of youth."

Janet Barker, executive director of the Glowing Embers Council, agrees. "Nothing like this has been done, for or by the Girl Scouts, nationally or locally," she says. Researchers Ford and Dempsey interviewed 87 people including parents, troop leaders, and Girl Scout officials, and found that "girl developers," or those who foster the growth, learning and advancement of girls, should strive for two behavior-oriented goals and possess seven core attributes.

The behavior-oriented goals require girl developers to serve as positive role models and create a positive environment. Interview respondents felt girl developers should be able to relate to the girls, and around the girls, in a respectful, friendly and trusting manner. In addition, girl developers should create a positive environment through understanding the changing developmental stages of girls. Participants felt that it is necessary for girl developers to grasp and address the differing needs of girls who vary from elementary school age to high school and come from rural communities or urban settings. In addition, girl developers should encourage challenging tasks at age-appropriate levels and get to know the girls on an individual basis. Respondents also noted they believe positive role modeling facilitates the creation of a positive environment for girls.

Respondents indicated that there are seven core attributes these leaders should have, including commitment to girls, strong principles, self-confidence, enthusiasm, nurturing behaviors, communication skills and appreciation for diversity. Barker says the council intends to use the identified attributes to guide the organization in creating new training materials and formats.

To that end, GSGEC is forming a girl developer academy and resource center to promote self-development among adults. Based on recommendations made by Ford and Dempsey, Barker says the agency "has put together a concise plan to expand our capacity to develop adults who want to help girls reach their full potential. This program will utilize technology to reach out to a diverse audience."

"When adults are excited about their personal development, that enthusiasm will spread to the girls," she says.

Ford and Dempsey also recommended that GSGEC modify its current training efforts from a "training" model to a "development" model, which is structured around the behavior-oriented goals and the attributes identified in the study.

The study is the first part of a two-prong research effort involving the GSGEC, conducted under the auspices of the Building Bridges Initiative. Funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, this initiative supports partnerships between university and nonprofit organizations to foster development of nonprofit management professionals. Ford is currently conducting the second phase of the project, which will assess the communication practices of the Girl Scouts and the Kalamazoo Valley Habitat for Humanity as related to volunteer satisfaction and retention. According to Ford, a team of graduate students are working with her to help identify communication practices that would most strongly influence volunteer satisfaction and retention at those organizations.

For more information about either report, please contact Wendy S. Zabava Ford at (616) 387-3109 or by e-mail to wendy.ford@wmich.edu or Sarah E. Dempsey at (616) 387-3151 or by e-mail to 99dempsey@wmich.edu.

Media contact: Erika Molloseau, 616 387-8400

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