Sunday, June 19, 2016

Hear It from a Girl Scout: Engineers Without Borders

Sarah Hartman and Jessica Fedetz of Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay not only earned the Girl Scout Gold Award, but are now turning the passions they developed in Girl Scouting into rewarding engineering careers. Check out their stories and their advice to other Girl Scouts going for gold!

What do you love about Girl Scouts?

Sarah Hartman (SH): Since graduating from high school and moving to university, I have reflected on my 12 years in Girl Scouts many times. It was not until I was no longer attending weekly meetings that I realized the impressive and long-lasting effect Girl Scouts has had on me. Girl Scouts was filled with stimulating activities, tangible skills, and lifelong friends. It taught me to be comfortable in my own skin. From a young age, I was encouraged to be confident in my ideas and to lead others. I remember many Girl Scout events where I found myself leading others and speaking in front of groups. This has built a sureness in me that lasts to today.

Jessica Fedetz (JF): Girl Scouts has exposed me to a vast array of life skills and career options, and has shown me how to use my resources to pursue opportunity. Girl Scouts helped me experience the outdoors through camping, kayaking, white water rafting, and more—developing my confidence. I love how Girl Scouts empowers young girls and women to pursue their dreams, no matter how big or small.

What impact has Girl Scouts had on your life?

SH: Girl Scouts has also taught me service and to love the environment. From camping trips to environment badges to river cleanups, I learned the importance of the world around me. Before “going green” had really caught hold, Girl Scouts was teaching me the value of the natural world. It was also exposing me to all the ways I, even as a young girl, could give back to my community. Caroling at retirement communities, beach-grass planting, and projects with the state park—service became an integral component of my Girl Scout experience and childhood. I have continued serving my community since my involvement in Girl Scouts.

JF: Through the Girl Scout badges my troop pursued, which always emphasized sustainability and being environmentally friendly, and through countless camping trips, I was exposed to the beauty of the earth around us. This guided me into my current major in environmental engineering. Most importantly, Girl Scouting has shown me the importance of serving the community I live in and has made me aware of my own capabilities and strengths as an individual. It has helped grow my decision-making skills and leadership qualities, and has helped me define my passions more concretely. Girl Scouts has also taught me the importance of my faith in my life through the Girl Scout Promise: “On my honor, I will try: to serve God and my country, to help people at all times, and to live by the Girl Scout Law.” These words have become my mission in life and have reminded me what is important.

Tell us about your Gold Award project and how it has helped you in your life.

SH: I worked on my Gold Award project while in high school. Inspired by my troop leader, who spent a season teaching my troop how to sew and create our own quilts, I created the Sewing Service Club at my school. I realized that many of my peers had never learned how to sew, despite the fact that it is an important skill to know. The first year the club ran, we sewed quilts made from recycled fabrics for a local elementary school. The club also visited the school many times throughout the year to build a relationship with the children. My Gold Award project allowed me to combine an interest in service, teaching, and the environment into something tangible that would support both high school and elementary students. It was a challenging experience, but one that has taught me a lot. By completing the Gold Award, I gained the confidence needed to turn my passions and ideas into something that benefits others.

JF: My Gold Award project involved building raised garden beds at Linden Hill Elementary School and developing a gardening club for fourth- and fifth-grade students, so that they may learn the importance of healthy eating and taking care of the earth around them. It also provided an opportunity for children to learn through hands-on experiences. This project helped me develop my communication skills, my ability to lead and direct people of all ages, and my organizational abilities. The experience helped me develop confidence in my abilities to take on a large task and break it down into small steps in order to make something that seems impossible, possible.

What advice would you give to other girls who are working toward their Gold Award?

SH: Through the Gold Award, I learned that if you need help, sometimes all it takes is to ask. Both friends and strangers will support you if you give them the opportunity. Additionally, the beginning of a venture can be difficult because resources must be collected and a lot of time is required to make the beginning a success. Communication with all involved groups is also incredibly important.

JF: Don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way and choose a project that you care about. You will run into problems and challenges, but that is all part of the experience and will help you grow as a person.

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

JF: During my Gold Award project, I faced many barriers in communication. People are always busy and if you truly want to show them you are serious about your project, follow up with them often. Phone calls are usually the best way to get in touch with people because they are harder to ignore. Not only is it imperative to communicate often, but also to make sure the people you communicate with understand your goals and what you expect from them.

Sarah and Jessica in the Philippines.

Tell us about Engineers Without Borders. How did you get involved, and what does this experience mean to you? 

SH: Since attending university, I have become highly involved in Engineers Without Borders (EWB)—an organization whose mission is to improve the lives of communities around the world through engineering. I am studying environmental engineering and have found EWB to be a perfect combination of my skills and passion for service. I am able to apply what I have learned in the classroom directly to problems around the world. My involvement in EWB fuels my interest in school and vice versa. Through the organization I have come to see how I can make the world a better place through environmental engineering.

JF: EWB at University of Delaware is part of a larger international organization called EWB-USA. We are committed to designing and implementing sustainable solutions to problems in international developing communities and bridging cultural, economic, and political divides. We are currently working on two projects: one in the Sakata region of Malawi and another on the island of Bohol in the Philippines. I heard about EWB when I was still in high school and was touring the University of Delaware. I really loved the mission of the organization, and hearing about this was a strong factor in why I decided to attend UD. I have been a part of EWB since my freshman year and the community of our organization has helped me to apply everything I am learning in my classes to real-life scenarios. Not only that, but to know that what I am learning in class has the potential to change the lives of people all over the world catalyzes the passion I have for my major. EWB reminds me that engineers do not just have the potential to make a lot of money one day, but they have the potential to make a lot of change with a lot of positive impact on this world. EWB has given me many connections to professional engineers who assist us with our projects, and has developed my public speaking and communication skills. It has allowed me to continue serving others, as I was able to do through Girl Scouting.

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

SH: I am a woman in STEM and I encourage other Girl Scouts to consider STEM as well. However, what is most important is to follow your interests, no matter what they are. I have been very happy in STEM because I enjoy math and science and have been able to combine my main interests, service and the environment, into my major. The key is to work hard and constantly ask questions. You will learn so much more if you continue to ask “why?”

JF: The STEM fields are definitely challenging, and women are definitely a minority in these fields. However, do not let these facts intimidate you. Though the courses are challenging, the challenge has been exciting and has taught me that it’s okay to ask for help from professors and students. The challenge that courses provide strengthens your ability to learn new concepts. Do not underestimate your own abilities and what you are capable of. Though women may be a minority in a field, there are many groups you can join that empower women in the STEM fields, and even if you do not join one of these groups, there are many people who will be there to encourage you along the way. Having other women by your side through the classes is always helpful.

How do you take the lead?

SH: I take the lead by turning my passions into reality. If there is something I am truly passionate about, I find opportunities that can help me actualize those passions. Taking the lead means taking action for something you care about. No matter how big or small the action is, it will reinforce your passions and their expression in the world around you.

JF: I take the lead by trusting in God to give me the strength to accomplish the large tasks that I hope to bring to fruition in my life. Without Him, I would not be able to use my environmental engineering major to bring potable water to developing communities both near and far.
I also take the lead by encouraging those around me to pursue their dreams by asking them tough questions and presenting them with small challenges so that they may be equipped to fulfill those dreams and mentor others.