For Sylvia Acevedo, interim CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA, a degree in engineering wasn't an obvious path.
Today she encourages other young girls to consider STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and advises them not to be daunted by the fact that you could be the only girl in the classroom.
Acevedo grew up near Las Cruces, New Mexico. "When I was a kid, girls like me weren't even graduating from high school, much less going on to college," she said. Although Acevedo scored the highest marks in school, "when I would tell people I wanted to be an engineer, they didn't believe it," she said.
With the help of a scholarship to make college financially attainable, Acevedo studied industrial engineering at New Mexico State University. Acevedo then went on to Stanford, where she earned a master's degree in engineering, and then Silicon Valley.
In a recent interview with "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer, she said she aims for Girl Scouts to not only instill the mission of leadership into girls but to become more technology-focused and learn how to code.
Even though she had to forge a new path in STEM, Acevedo attributes her success in college and beyond in part to her Girl Scouts pedigree. "I was very grateful I had a good background in math and science, and I had also been in Girl Scouts, so I had the courage and confidence to be the only girl in the classroom and still succeed."
To the girls in troops across the country, she says, "don't let yourself be daunted – you can do it; you can be successful."
Women continue to be underrepresented in STEM occupations relative to their position in the labor market as a whole: Only 23 percent of workers in STEM are women, compared with 51 percent of workers in all occupations, according to the Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce.
And those with an undergraduate major in STEM make substantially more over their lifetimes than non-STEM majors — by about $595,000.