Celebrating Girl Scout Highest Award Alumna Nancy Banta
How closely do you look at the landscape around you? If you’re a geologist like Girl Scout and First Class alumna, Nancy Banta – the answer is probably a lot. Through Girl Scouts, Nancy was able to share her love of geology to educate other girls and gain life skills that gave her the confidence to thrive. From wrangling cattle in muddy boots to getting her first job offer while working at camp, Nancy is a proud Girl Scout and woman in STEM who defied the odds to live a life of adventure and travel.
Born into a military family, Nancy moved frequently, but found a home in Girl Scouts. “[I liked] having something that was the same structure wherever I went. I may have been the new kid in school, but I was still a Girl Scout – that gives you a lot of confidence,” Nancy said. Starting as a Brownie, she continued through high school and earned the First Class, an award that is now the Gold Award. While in Girl Scouts she remembers camping, service projects and developing leadership skills. “We used to say they could drop us out of a plane with a jack knife and twine and we could build a city,” Nancy said.
Her first job was as a counselor at Girl Scout Camp Brandy in New York and required special permission from GSUSA since she was below the age threshold. At camp, she became “Battleship Nancy” and said that “as a counselor, it was important to me to give [girls] an experience that their parents couldn’t offer them.” Camping was a passion and inspired her decision to become a geology major at Beloit College in Wisconsin.
As a woman in STEM in the 1970s, she faced shocking gender obstacles. Missouri legally would not allow women to descend into mines, making her field work dependent on what the men in the group could bring back. This lack of gender equality in the field was daunting, but didn’t stop Nancy from graduating as a geologist and even pursuing her PhD in geology from the University of Texas at Austin in the 1980s.
After college, Nancy became a counselor and geologist at National Center West, a highly competitive and prestigious Girl Scout camp. That summer gave her lifelong friends and skills that helped her get a job. Known as “Rock” at camp, Nancy spent hours riding horses each day to teach Girl Scouts about geology.
Toward the end of her time at National Center West, Nancy got a call from Getty Oil Company asking her to come out to California for an interview. Getty Oil was a large, successful company that has since become part of Texaco. At the time, it was owned by J. Paul Getty (named richest living American by Fortune in 1957). In 1974 less than 1% of petroleum geologists were female, so the odds of Nancy getting a job with this prestigious company was so unthinkable, she didn’t take it seriously. “The big deal at dinner was ‘well Rock, when you get this job, we’ll all go with you to Los Angeles!’” Nancy said. Little did she know – those girls actually would travel to California with her and become her first roommates.
The interview process wasn’t stressful because Nancy didn’t think she had a chance. “I was totally relaxed. At that time women in petroleum geology were .06%, so I had extremely low expectations,” Nancy said. To her surprise, Getty sent a limo to pick her up from the airport and hired her as a Junior Geologist.
Working with Getty allowed Nancy to have a life of adventure. She traveled all over the world, spending time on oil rigs and examining ground samples. She mapped swamps in Guatemala, worked on wells in Columbia and Canada and visited places like Madrid, Glasglow, Houston, London & Vienna for a geology meetings, among many other adventures. Nancy was responsible for giving presentations from her team because she was an excellent communicator. They even took presentations to schools to teach kids about geology – skills she had from being a camp counselor. With Getty she was part of the team responsible for exploration in Spain, Northern Europe and North Africa. The experiences she had with Getty were the ultimate outdoor adventure – a life of science all over the world.
Nancy continues to inspire girls and be an advocate for women in STEM. She’s a member of Daisy’s Circle, GSKSMO’s monthly giving program and a member of the Trefoil Society. Nancy believes that Girl Scouts has a lasting power for women – no matter the generation. “Girl Scouts teaches values, gives you friendships and the confidence from having the skills you need. [As a Girl Scout] you really aren’t afraid of things that go bump in the night,” Nancy said.
There is one camp song in particular that Nancy feels sums up the camping experience and her time as a Girl Scout. The lyrics are from “On My Honor” and go: “But we find more meaning in a campfire’s glow / Than we’d ever learn in a year or so / We’ve made a promise to always keep / And the day is done before we sleep / We’ll be Girl Scouts together and when we’re gone / We’ll still be trying and singing this song.”
Thank you to Nancy for all your amazing advocacy and work with Girl Scouts and as a woman in STEM. If you have any memories with “Battleship Nancy,” “Rock” or of another awesome Highest Award recipient, share in the comments below!