Monday, August 10, 2020

This Gold Award Girl Scout Is Changing the World Through Mindful Production and Consumption

Gold Award Girl Scout alum Amber talked to us about her passion for sustainability; science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); and how the Arconic Chuck McLane Scholarship helped her achieve her goals.

If you’re wondering how to use your creativity, curiosity, and leadership to make the world a better place, read on!

What were your last couple of months like?

I am thrilled to have completed my studies at the University of Utah! I studied materials science and engineering, and I successfully defended my master’s work virtually in April!

Rather than participating in our university’s virtual commencement ceremony, my husband and I drove across the country prior to starting our first jobs out of college. We are grateful to have graduated and to start working remotely.

Your degree sounds exciting. What exactly is materials science engineering?

Materials engineering is like architecture on an atomic scale. We design the material properties that will enable future technologies. For my master’s degree, I developed alternative materials to replace plastic packaging that ultimately minimizes the environmental impact of single-use packaging.

What’s mindful production and consumption?

I was introduced to the need for mindful production and consumption in my first year of college. My professor received a “request for innovation” from an organization located in Guatemala; they were seeking out a completely biodegradable menstrual pad for women in their rural communities. I had never considered the immense amount of nonrecoverable waste generated by feminine hygiene products and was thrilled to address the challenge using sustainable materials.

When a Girl Scout identifies a problem, she takes action. How did you take action?

After successfully identifying biodegradable materials for the menstrual pad, my advising professor, two other students, and I started a company (SHERO) to create biodegradable menstrual pads for women worldwide. Most recently, I led the formulation of a biodegradable hot melt adhesive to enable high-speed manufacturing and secured over $20,000 for SHERO’s research and development.

As I learned more about responsible consumption and the circular economy, my dream shifted to addressing sustainability challenges at Procter & Gamble (P&G), where material selection, packaging design, and business models have a global reach. Since May 2019, I have been supporting the research and development of packaging that meets P&G’s “Ambition 2030” goals for recyclability of flexible materials.

How can being a STEM leader make the world a better place?

As STEM leaders, we want to, and can, solve problems using the experiences we are acquiring each semester. This expertise allows us to begin giving back to our universities and our communities in tangible ways. These contributions to industry, to the environment, and to society, are not only valued but also praise the many individuals who have invested both time and money in our development.

Additionally, we can impact others by volunteering our time in our communities. While attending the University of Utah, I served on the Society of Women Engineers’ Outreach Committee and was the co-vice president of outreach for two years. I served with the hope of positively impacting others. Ten years after being a participant in the Society of Women Engineers’ Girl Scout Night, I planned the same event for other Girl Scouts!

Throughout my time as a student, hundreds of girls have explored engineering disciplines through demonstrations, hands-on engineering activities, and seminars connecting how STEM directly applies to their lives. Girl participants have stated that their confidence in STEM and their interest in pursuing engineering have increased after attending these events. Experiencing engineering outside of the classroom increases girls’ confidence in problem solving, thereby empowering them to address problems now in their daily lives and in any career they pursue.

How did you decide what you wanted to tackle for your Gold Award?

In high school I wanted to solve problems using the engineering design process. I identified that light pollution from streetlights wasted energy and negatively affected flora and fauna. I consulted with electrical engineers, physicists, and local government to learn more about the problem and policies related to solving this challenge. I designed, prototyped, and tested nine different light fixtures. This experience solidified my desire to pursue an engineering degree but also guided my Gold Award. Participating in science and engineering experiences outside of a traditional classroom setting changed my perception of STEM and motivated me to pursue extracurricular STEM activities.

For my Gold Award, I wanted to provide students in grades 5–12 with opportunities to experience engineering outside of a traditional classroom setting. I compiled an engineering fair curriculum and distributed it to schools and Girl Scout councils nationwide. Recognizing that prototyping and redesigning are often the most expensive steps in the engineering process, I sought to make mini grants available to students. To make engineering more financially accessible to students in my school district, I authored and received a $3,000 grant from Zions Bank’s “Smart Women, Smart Money” to provide students in my school district with mini grants to offset the costs of prototyping.

Gratefully, I continued to volunteer with Girl Scouts of Utah and participated in STEM outreach throughout my time at the University of Utah. The opportunity to give back to organizations, like Girl Scouts of Utah, recharged me during difficult times. Volunteering with Girl Scouts helped me stay motivated, especially when my coursework was overwhelming.

What’s next for you?

My goals include being a lifelong learner of sustainable materials and green chemistry and to see these materials be widely adopted in consumer goods and our society.

While I was finishing my graduate program, I was a co-leader for a STEM Girl Scout troop in the Salt Lake Valley. After COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, I hope to volunteer with my local Girl Scout council as a troop leader and volunteer in STEM, entrepreneurship, and leadership programs.

Looking back, how has Girl Scouts and the Arconic Chuck McLane Scholarship affected your life?

Girl Scouts introduced me to engineering and motivated me to pursue my dream job. I was introduced to engineering while attending space camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, with Girl Scouts of the USA. I worked on a team of 15 Girl Scouts to successfully complete a mission to Mars, experienced weightlessness while using astronaut training equipment, and learned about the engineering design challenges associated with space exploration.

I also attended engineering events at the University of Utah, including the Society of Women Engineers’ Girl Scout Night. Being on campus, specifically in the Warnock engineering building, allowed me to visualize myself as an engineering student.

Receiving the generous Arconic Chuck McLane Scholarship greatly altered my educational experience. Rather than being divided between the academic and financial commitment of schooling, I was able to attend school continuously, receive supplemental instruction for coursework, and make contributions back to my community.

Learn more about our partnership with the Arconic Foundation.