Thursday, May 19, 2016

Hear It from a Girl Scout: From Gold Award to Internship

In collaboration with Alcoa Foundation, Girl Scouts of the USA has provided six Girl Scouts since 2013 with the Alcoa Chuck McLane Scholarship, which is available to Gold Award recipients who complete Gold Award projects related to science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). Kaitlyn Kanis of Girl Scouts of Northern Indiana-Michiana received the Alcoa Chuck McLane Scholarship in 2013 and is now an intern at Alcoa Lafayette Operations. Check out her story and what she has to say about her experience in Girl Scouts.

Tell us about your STEM-related Gold Award project and your experience in Girl Scouts.

For my Gold Award, I chose to complete a project that incorporated an environmentally friendly solution to a major problem in my community. Growing up, I was very athletic, and our town had a very well-organized Little League system and a beautiful community park where we could play. However, the mosquito population was about enough to prevent members of the community from attending games or making use of the park, which is in a very wooded, wet area. I also grew up spending my summers living at a state park near my house because my parents volunteered for the Department of Natural Resources, and the time I spent here instilled in me a desire to conserve our resources and treat the Earth with the utmost respect. I combined my love of spending time at the ballpark with my love of the Earth by taking an environmental approach to reducing the mosquito population—by constructing several bat houses to be installed at various locations around the park. To complete this project, I searched to find the most effective bat house plans and then tweaked them to fit the needs of my community’s park. Enough wood and other needed supplies to complete my project were donated, and I was able to enlist a woodworker in the community to teach me about the process and help me complete the initial building of the houses. A local Girl Scout troop, consisting mainly of Daisies and Brownies, helped me with the tasks that remained—painting and roofing. The same day they helped me, I spoke at their meeting about the importance of bats in the ecosystem and did a bat craft with them. Several other members of the community assisted in the final stages of the project, including the hanging of the houses. Now my bat houses can be seen hanging around the park, the mosquito population has become more manageable, and a bulletin in the information boxes around the park describes my project and informs community members of the role of bats in the ecosystem.

What advice would you give to other girls who are in the process of earning their Gold Award?

I would tell them to never give up, to not let what is “cool” or what everyone else is doing take precedence. If there is anything worth your perseverance, this is it. This will open so many more doors than you ever imagined. Earning your Gold Award will change your life. I know—it did mine. Without my Gold Award and the scholarship opportunities it opened up for me, I would never have been able to afford furthering my education at the university level. Without the opportunities the path to completing my Gold Award offered me, I wouldn’t have been able to find what I truly loved doing, or what strengths I was blessed with. This project will teach you more about yourself than anything else in your high school and early college career and will push you to be the best version of yourself.
What opportunities has Girl Scouts given you?

Girl Scouts has given me more opportunities than I would have ever thought possible. Throughout my formative years, I was able to visit many businesses and locations in surrounding areas—more so than some of my friends—and those opportunities allowed me to dig deeper into my passions and explore my future. Girl Scouts has also instilled in me a desire to succeed, to always be thinking about my next move. Many of the activities I completed when I was younger as well as opportunities to practice leadership skills with girls younger than myself when I was older built in me a greater self-confidence. I believe one of the most important opportunities Girl Scouts has provided me with was the opportunity to realize my potential as a female, and to be empowered to reach my goals alongside other strong females.

Tell us about your internship at Alcoa.

The past two summers I have had the opportunity to work closely with the Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) staff at Alcoa Lafayette Operations as an intern. The first summer, I worked solely as the environmental intern and was able to explore every part of the facility as I completed governmental and internally regulated inspections, took samples for environmental risk analyses, and completed several different projects, such as creating an inventory for the spill-response trailer and working with my supervisor on the placement and maintenance of environmental stations in the new facility on the grounds. Last summer, I worked as the Environmental, Health, and Safety intern, which allowed me to gain experience in all areas of that department—I completed a very large government-regulated report, attended several safety meetings with plant employees, and worked on creating and updating safety procedures, such as machine lock-outs. I also have had the opportunity to visit several other Alcoa locations, including the Technical Center, which has enabled me to see many different sides of the aluminum industry. I will be returning to Alcoa this summer, once again as an EHS intern, and I couldn’t be more excited!

What impact has Girl Scouts and the Alcoa Chuck McLane Scholarship had on your life?

Without Girl Scouts and the Alcoa Chuck McLane Scholarship, my world would be completely different, and my eyes would not have been opened to the amazing field of industrial work I have grown to love. Each summer, I have been able to learn more and become better equipped to move into this field full time upon my college graduation. Without this scholarship, I would not have been able to realize my love or skill for working in this setting, and would not have gotten to meet the EHS professionals who have had such a tremendous impact on my life and career alike. My contact with my mentor over the first year and a half of the scholarship allowed me to get involved in the company and helped place me at a location near my hometown for the summers, which has been a huge blessing, seeing as that I attend a university almost 1,300 miles from home! This scholarship has also given me peace of mind during the long semesters, allowing me to focus on my academic career without worrying about where I will be getting money for textbooks or how I will afford university housing and required supplies.

What advice would you give to other girls who want to pursue a STEM field?

I’d tell them it’s a challenging but rewarding experience. Often, women and girls are overlooked, despite being more accomplished and better equipped to complete the job. It takes courage and persistence to stand out, but I believe that many women and girls can outperform men in these fields—if they have a passion and a love for subjects included in the STEM fields, strive for success, give it all they have, and don’t let anyone discourage them.

What challenges have you faced, and how did you overcome them?

One of the challenges I faced was the dissipation of the troop I had belonged to since I was six-years-old to late middle school/early high school. For both my Bronze and Silver Awards, I had been surrounded by a hoard of other girls working on theirs, which provided a readily available support group of leaders and troop parents to turn to with questions about paperwork or project steps. Having a large troop also helped motivate me to start and complete my projects. However, as I continued on as a Juliette [individually registered girl], it was easy to feel lost and fall behind in the steps to complete my Gold Award. To overcome this problem, I made a time schedule of when I needed and wanted every step completed, and I did not let myself fail to keep to the schedule, pushing myself to achieve more and to be more than I had ever imagined.

How do you take the lead?

During both of my internships, so far, as one of only a few females, I have had to increase my work ethic and performance to stand out among the males. As I work closely with plant employees amid large machinery, I am making my appearance as a female in a leadership position--even wearing multiple layers of clothing and fire-retardant protection most of the day. At my university, I belong to two national collegiate honor societies as well as multiple scientific research clubs and the campus honors program—taking the lead for academic excellence among females in STEM-related courses. Aside from being a Gold Award recipient, I also hold the American Farmer Degree through the National Future Farmers of America (FAA) Organization, one of the highest awards possible in that organization. I am also an active volunteer in the community I now live in, teaching elementary school-age boys and girls in our local hockey league the basic skill set for the sport as well as delivering nutritious meals weekly to members of the community for Meals on Wheels.