Thursday, April 17, 2014

Actually, it IS rocket science. ...And Girl Scouts can do that, too!


Eleven-year-old Mahlia Schneck from Girl Scouts of Connecticut,
a double amputee and all-around science guru, wins
“Reach for the Stars” national rocket competition, proving
 that even the sky is no longer a limit for Girl Scouts


Photo by Kathy Colpas
Mahlia will tell you herself: her favorite school subject is science.

“We just finished up a section on phases of the moon and the effects they have on us. I think it is really interesting how everything affects something else. It is like a big puzzle.”

But Mahlia’s intergalactic wisdom and knowledge go far beyond the classroom and her time with Girl Scouts of Connecticut.

And the winner is…
On October 5, 2013, Mahlia traveled to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center to be recognized as a first-place winner in “Reach for the Stars,” a two-day national rocketry competition co-directed by husband-and-wife team Jack and Kathy Colpas.

Mahlia won first place when her rocket, which had to be built on-site during the competition, landed closest to the intended target.

“The whole competition was exciting!” Mahlia exclaimed. “Rockets kept going off and then up, up, up! It was a ‘blast,’” she said, using trusty air quotes with a smile.

Mahlia competed against 1200 other participants, all of whom had to build, prepare, and launch their own solid fuel-powered rocket and recover it by parachute.

Focus on the ability, not the disability.
Mahlia’s hard-earned honor stands alone as an accomplishment worthy of the highest accolades.

But she is probably too busy being a humble, confident Girl Scout to tell you why her accomplishment is attracting so much attention (she’s extra busy recently: she and her friends in Troop 37145 just painted and donated a set of benches for their local community center).

Mahlia is a double-amputee.
Photo by Kathy Colpas
But Mahlia won’t for a minute let you think that a physical disability can hold back a true Girl Scout.

“The people who know me do not think of me as the girl with prosthetic feet—they think of me as Mahlia.”

As an infant, Mahlia was involved in an accident she doesn’t remember. But she regards her feet with humor and grace, advising other kids who may have a disability to be themselves and just follow what makes them happy.

“Sometimes I tell people [my feet] got bit off by a shark. They didn’t, but it makes me laugh.”

Shooting for the Stars with STEM.
Mahlia’s interest in science was no shark accident; it was written in the stars.

She was inspired to follow her interest in science after meeting Girl-Scout-turned-astronaut Cady Coleman at a Girl Scouts of Connecticut event devoted to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Girl Scouts’ STEM initiatives show girls the fun of these subjects in an all-girl setting and inspire them to explore STEM-related fields in which women have historically been vastly underrepresented.

“Meeting Cady Coleman was really fun!” Mahlia explains. “After talking to her, she showed me the flute that she took into space. I told her I also play the flute, and she let me play hers. Also, as if that wasn’t cool enough…she gave me a mission patch from her mission to the space station!”

A natural-born leader who thrives in Girl Scouting, Mahlia aspires to join the ranks of other female astronauts (all but one of whom just so happen to be Girl Scouts) and travel into space herself one day.

“When I grow up, I would like to be an astronaut because it would be very exciting to explore a new planet or work at mission control and be the person in charge of launching a rocket.”

A girl of courage, confidence, and character, who makes the world a better place.
Girl Scouts of Connecticut CEO Mary Barneby admires Mahlia’s passion and perseverance.

“We are so proud of Mahlia Schneck,” Ms. Barneby said. “She is an inspiration to us all and a role model for all girls.”

Photo by Kathy Colpas
Mahlia’s parents, Kevin and Erienne, credit Girl Scouts’ volunteer opportunities for refining Mahlia’s natural self-confidence and self-esteem.

“We are very proud of Mahlia and love to watch her interact with the public on projects like Cookies for Heroes, where the girls virtually sell cookies to send overseas to US soliders, or when the girls collect supplies for our local animal shelter.”

Kevin and Erienne’s advice to other parents of children with disabilities is to simply breathe.

“Do not focus on the disability, focus on the ability,” they explain. “As parents, sometimes we focus more on the issue than the kids do. You have to let them guide you and follow their lead. A good shark joke once in a while never hurts, either!”

For more information on how your Girl Scout can 'reach for the stars' and become interested in STEM subjects, visit www.therocketman.net. Deadline for local competitions is July 31.

For more information on Girl Scouts of Connecticut, please visit www.gsofct.org

For more information on joining Girl Scouts, please visit www.girlscouts.org/join.

For press inquiries, please contact Girl Scouts of the USA Press Room at media@girlscouts.org