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Chancellor Ford as a Girl Scout

Debbie Ford as a Girl Scout.

Growing up, I was shy. One of the best decisions my parents ever made was to enroll me in Girl Scouts. It was there, in the company of friends and in an inviting, all-girl, girl-led space, that I first learned a simple truth — I was capable of accomplishing pretty much anything I set my mind to. In the welcoming space of Girl Scouts, I felt free, free to be myself, free to try new things and free to take the lead.

I fondly remember my journey from kindergarten through my early years in high school, making new friends, earning badges and raising money with my troop to go camping and explore the United States. With the right encouragement, guidance and training, I grew into a confident woman who leads by example, thanks in part to my time at Girl Scouts.

You see, Girl Scouts helps build bonds for girls. We know, and research shows, that some girls can hold back when boys are part of their learning environment. For me, going through adolescence was tough enough, but having an all-girl support network allowed me and my Girl Scout sisters to create our own identities. We were able to be vulnerable with each other and work through what it meant to be an adolescent girl.

Unsurprisingly, Girl Scouts knows that the secret to creating female leaders is starting young. Through the Girl Scouts’ more than 106 years of experience giving girls the tools they need to empower themselves, I found a great place to learn, free from some of the social pressures that often exist in a mixed-gender environment. Girl Scouts provided me with a leadership experience that prepared me for the roles I now play as a woman.

I’m also proud to be a G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader) — the leadership development platform that only Girl Scouts provides. One of the things I always hear from employers and my peers in higher education is the importance of life skills: skills like teamwork, communication, collaboration, problem solving, cultural understanding and goal setting, the skills girls learn through Girl Scouts.

It’s the Girl Scout difference that fosters intangible qualities that are so endemic to personal development — courage, confidence and character — and that also happen to be the cornerstone of the Girl Scout mission. Girl Scouts can be the answer for girls to become the confident leaders our world needs.

Every girl should have the opportunity to reach her full potential. At the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, we have partnered in a breadth of leadership experiences for Girl Scouts including coding, STEM, career exploration and recreational activities to help foster their development.

For me, being a Girl Scout was one of the defining leadership experiences of my life. As a Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast board member, I am a champion for all girls. I invite you to join me and give girls leadership opportunities to become the go-getters, innovators, risk-takers, and leaders our world needs through Girl Scouts.

To learn more, go to Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast at

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Debbie Ford is chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside

and Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast board member.


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