by Selene Muldowney
Inspiration comes in many forms and we often find ourselves consumed with seeking it. Make no mistake, being a learner and watching what others do leads to greater success as you find your inspiration and motivation in the work and success of others. This type of inspiration can be problematic, however, as it is passive inspiration. You can garner mass quantities of information but the drive to actually create isn’t necessary. Hearing about someone else’s success does not equate to creating your own.
Instead of merely being a passenger of the inspiration train you can take steps to become engaged and active in your own inspiration. Create new things, apply new ideas to reach goals, and make discoveries along the journey. This active inspiration results in long term passion and enthusiasm. Too often we spend our lives consuming the world around us instead of creating it. While other’s ideas can be motivating the power of your actions will serve as your ultimate inspiration. The best inspiration comes from the application of ideas, not the consumption of them.
So what does inspiration have to do with scuba diving and the girl scouts? Why spend time reminding you (and all of us) to become inspired?
The Girl Scouts of the USA has been inspiring girls and young women to develop a lasting commitment to the environment. Founder, Juliette Gordon Low, was known for her love of nature and today Girl Scouts honors her legacy by promoting respect and love of the great outdoors far and wide. Through Girl Scouting, the girls are encouraged to see the Earth as their home: they learn about endangered species, developing recycling programs, and focusing on conservation, education, and responsibility.
Interestingly, the Boy Scouts have been promoting Try Scuba experience since 2009 as part of their outdoors merit badges. While the Girl Scouts have also encouraged girls to seek adventure sports and activities only recently have they become more engaged with scuba diving. Many dive shop retailers see the girls for a short period of time – the girls find scuba intriguing, sign up, try the sport, and get their patch. It is not significantly different than the boy’s experience. Few if any troops pursue further interest in the sport often leaving the girls with a fun experience and the desire to learn more.
This is the part where we talk about scuba and how it can inspire girls not only to become more involved in the sport of scuba but also empowering them to become strong leaders in their community and advocates for the environment.
In 2015, Michelle Graf, PADI Assistant Instructor at Dive World Austin (also known as Queen Trigger, the troop leader and divemaster), asked the other adult leaders (Queen Angel and the Splendid Toadfish) if they would be interested in building a year-round program, establishing classes for the girls as well as a separate troop focused on scuba. The idea was greeted with a resounding yes, and in 2016 the paperwork was filed. Troop 40348 became the first Girl Scout Scuba Troop in the United States. Their first meeting in February of 2017 was modest, with just four young scouts: Cuttlefish, Flounder, Octogirl, and Otter.
Dive World Austin serves as the home base for Troop 40348 to learn and explore the sport, supported by not only their immediate leadership but also the shop staff and instructors. Karen Erickson, PADI Course Director, runs the girl scout classes alongside Graf and the other instructors. Many of the instructors are involved at some level with scouting and value the education and inspiration they offer these young girls.
Erickson’s daughter, Karina Erickson, also a PADI instructor and known as Mermaid in the troop, plays a vital role in assisting the girls reach their goals and affirm their mission statement not only as Girl Scouts but scuba divers, keeping conservation and the love for the ocean as their primary goal. The dive center has done something unique – crafting a learning environment promoting the scout mission and using scuba diving as the vehicle to support their goals.
Erickson speaks fondly about the role they have taken as mentors to these young ladies:
“Scouting and scuba have so much in common. At the core of the scout mission is to make the world a better place and they do this through conservation efforts and education – this is not different than our mission as scuba divers. As divers we enjoy exploration and ultimately want to conserve the marine world environments. One of the scout laws is to leave a smaller footprint and make the world a better place – this absolutely falls in line with our mission but rather than being in the woods we are in the water.”
Erickson continues, “Scouting is about making friends, learning new skills, and making new experiences which is very similar to learning scuba. They collide in a lot of fundamental ways – it takes determination and grit to earn this patch and earn the certification.”
Not only do the girls have an opportunity to continue scuba instruction, they also have opportunities to meet girls from a varied demographic group, as explained by Graf:
“We have a group of girls who may have never met each other or formed friendships outside of joining this troop. They come from a varied demographic and age groups. Scuba diving historically has brought different people from different walks of life together – the difference here is that the sport for a long time did not really involve or invite the participation of women.”
The girls are involved in the process of their learning from actual participation in activities to maintain their blog and Facebook presence. While the leaders offer guidance and safeguards to their online participation they encourage the girls to be directly involved. The troop maintains multiple social media accounts all promoting scuba diving to other girls plus encouraging conservation.
“All the troop leaders have scuba experience at some level,” explains Graf. “As a trainer I have enjoyed watching the girls not only get their initial certification but also continue their journey. The girls are excited which encourages us as well. It is very fulfilling to see this journey take place because so often after we certify adult divers they leave, and we never know what happened. These girls involve us in this process.”
Erickson further explains their long term mission for the troop:
“We are hoping to see this program used as the prototype – of sorts – by agencies like PADI to encourage girls to continue scuba and conservation. We really want to make this program a catalyst for PADI to establish the relationship between girl scouts and scuba diving as it falls in line with their Women’s Dive Day program – but instead of encouraging and empowering women one day a year we encourage year round enthusiasm and participation.”
Although the troop celebrates empowering girls to women every day, the dive shop and the troop participate with the annual PADI Women’s Day working together to co-host an underwater scavenger hunt. Unlike the traditional methods offered by other dive centers, charters, and resorts, the girls take the lead and create a community event focused on celebrating women underwater photographers. The scavenger hunt is photo based, clues are written for points of interest and divers are encouraged to take photos based on those clues. The individual/s with the most matched clues and photos wins a prize. The scouts ask for donations for goodie bag giveaways as prizes.
While there are other dive shops and centers working on scout related diving certifications, almost all of them are dedicated to providing only the initial certification and not continued education unless the girl (or boy) or ask to continue. This troop is truly the first and seemingly the only of its kind. The program was crafted akin to NOAA’s Ocean Guardian educational program. Graf and her team leaders incorporated the main objectives of their program to include conservation efforts and to concentrate on marine sanctuaries and their systems.
Graf expands on this:
“The girls must take NOAA’s Ocean Guardian Dive Club pledge to participate. We focus our discussions on marine debris and encourage the girls to make a pledge to work on making changes in their everyday lives. They learn their behavior inland can and will affect the world not only directly around them but many miles away. For example, the girls use less plastic and use coral safe sunscreen. We plan to take the troop to Florida Keys this coming summer to learn about the coral reefs restoration programs. For many of the girls this will be their first ocean dive – they are so very excited!”
While it may seem the girls only focus is scuba diving – this is not the case. The girls must achieve the scout obligations, earn patches, and sell cookies. Of course, they attempt to incorporate all these activities into the pool and scuba diving. During the most recent cookie season the girls offered an underwater cookie sale – an idea that went much further than initially expected.
Graf was impressed with their imaginative way to sell the cookies:
“The troop thought it would be fun to sell the cookies underwater. They created a series of videos on the challenges they face selling cookies then followed up with the sale in the pool. We set up a cookie booth underwater with a sign, sunk the cookie boxes in dry bags and allowed customers to either dive down and purchase the cookies directly from the girls or they could order the cookies landside. We sent messenger ‘turtles’ to deliver the cookie orders. This was one example of how imaginative they are as a group. In fact, on another occasion, the girls wanted to know what it would be like to dive in a kelp forest, and being in inland Texas with no access to kelp beds, they created their own kelp forest in the pool. This is really an invaluable lesson for new divers who otherwise may not have an opportunity to learn the intricacies of diving in a kelp forest.”
Both Erickson and Graf are pleased with the outcome of the troop’s endeavors and hope to increase the size encouraging more girls to participate. They both feel they have learned as much from this experience as the girls have learned from them and each other.
Erickson further states:
“I am very familiar with the girl scout mission as I served as an ambassador after graduation. I was approached by both my mom and Michelle to help get this program established. I thought it might be a crazy idea but I love this industry and seeing young women who are so passionate about scuba and conservation affirmed our decision to do this. It is nice to see the next generation of young girls get involved in the industry because unfortunately the industry does not have many women and girls knocking on the door. This is really a new realm we are stepping into.”
The parents and girls are as excited to share their enthusiasm as the scout leaders and eagerly wanted to share their experiences with the troop. One of the young scouts, Emily, was inspired by her mother, Maureen, a scout leader and avid scuba diver.
Maureen found it challenging to keep the older girls in her troop enthusiastic about scouting then discovered she could offer scuba to them and immediately recommended they try it. Their first introduction to the sport included a discussion on conservation, gear review and understanding, then underwater games fully geared up.
“The girls fell in love immediately!” Maureen says enthusiastically. “I am personally certified and it made me happy to see our daughter want to learn the sport. This allows my husband and I and her brothers to now get involved as a family. It is a unique and overwhelming experience for both the girls and myself. While it takes work both in and out of water we all appreciate reaching our goals and it has helped the girls build each other’s confidence. “
Maureen works in environmental affairs for a large computer company tasked to making computer products more environmentally friendly. She is very passionate about environmental conservation and sustainability.
“The more they learn about their environment or community or the world helps expand how they can have an impact on this world,” she says. “I want to inspire other girls to delve into scuba.”
Emily explains her enthusiasm for the program, “I really enjoy scuba diving as a troop because we get to experience a different perspective diving underwater by seeing animal life we wouldn’t see on land.”
Emily’s favorite animals include dolphins, turtles, and starfish, and she enthusiastically explains her experiences with local underwater trash cleanups, and the startling things they found, including abandoned fishing lines and an old golf ball, “We learned about buoyancy – it was hard! And we got certified for pumpkin carving. The instructors are full of great ideas but they allow us to take the lead.”
Her future plans include getting her open water certification, visiting Greece because it has beautiful clear waters – her favorite movie is Mama Mia – inspiring this trip. Her future plans also include marine biology although while she admits she hasn’t figured it all out yet she definitely wants to do something connected to the ocean and conservation.
“Scuba diving is super cool and you can learn so much while having fun and help save the ocean at the same time,” Emily explains what she hopes readers learn from this article. “You won’t know if you like something until you try it – I wasn’t sure how I would like scuba but I tried it and I realized it was so fun.”
Maureen agrees with her daughter further expanding her thoughts on the value of what she has learned, her daughter has learned, and the need for agencies like PADI to pursue this type of cooperative learning:
“Encourage your children to explore new ideas and take chances to help them find their passions in life. If they find what they like to do it gets them excited to pursue their interested. Being pushed to their limits in a supportive environment has helped these girls learn self-esteem. We live in Central Texas which is so far from the oceans and yet through this program the girls have learned they can still make a difference and have an impact on the ocean despite the distance from the ocean.”
Scuba is not the end result in this case – it is the path. Many retailers and instructors focus on scuba as the end goal but in this case the process of learning scuba is the vehicle to greater knowledge, understanding of the world, self-esteem, and empowerment.
For more information on GS Troop 40348, visit https://troop40348.weebly.com.