Valley Girl Scout speaks at Capitol
BIG LAKE — It wasn’t the size of the audience that made Cassandra Alexander nervous June 19.
More than the crowd of 35 or so, the 17-year-old Colony High School senior said it was the location of her presentation Wednesday and the audience members themselves who rattled her.
“I was a little nervous, but I knew I could do it,” she said by phone from Washington, D.C., Wednesday evening after participating in the “STEM Workforce Equality: Engaging Girls and Women” panel at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center earlier that day. “It was more intimidating today.”
The American Chemical Society, Congress and Girl Scouts of the USA sponsored the briefing and panel discussion on “STEM Workforce Equality: Engaging Girls and Women.” The event was co-hosted by Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and moderated by Madeleine Jacobs, executive director for the American Chemical Society. In addition to Alexander, panelists included Girls Scouts of the USA CEO Anna Maria Chavez; Carol Amos, manager of the field engineering program for DuPont; and Judy Brown, senior vice president of education, Miami Science Museum.
The discussion centered on options to foster youths’ — particularly girls’ — curiosity and build a future STEM workforce that reflects the national population and helps deliver prosperity to communities. The acronym STEM stands for “science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”
Panelists addressed best practices in out-of-school settings to engage and energize girls into STEM interests with a focus on the K-12 age group.
Alexander was the only youth included in the panel and she is the first Girl Scout from the Valley to earn a Gold Award since 2007.
Alexander joined Girl Scouts when she was 5. This year she earned that organization’s highest achievement, the Gold Award. It was a summary of her Gold Award project that earned her this most recent opportunity in a long list to come her way via Scouting.
Her mom, Julie Alexander, said her daughter has been earning money to go on Girl Scout trips for several years. The family says they are experts at fundraising through efforts such as cookie sales, babysitting, bake sales, a flagger at a motorcycle race, sweeping parking lots and once she made 10 cents a hat for putting price tags on them for a vendor at the Alaska State Fair.
The two returned to the Valley June 20, but she will leave in about a month for her next Girl Scout adventure. This time she’s one of 17 girls from across the U.S. picked to be part of a Girl Scout Destination trip to Peru from July 21 to 31.
Alexander said girls apply to participate in the Destinations trips. She’s also been to Costa Rica, Japan and Panama with the Girl Scouts, and attended a marine biology camp in California and Space Academy in Huntsville, Ala.
So what was her Gold Award project?
Boaters on Big Lake will remember Alexander as the young woman at the boat launch last summer passing out boating kits and conducting a survey.
For a project to meet the qualifications for a Gold Award it has to address the root cause of a problem and seek to solve it in a sustainable way, she said.
It was a Girl Scout trip to Costa Rica last summer that opened her eyes to the importance of clean water in her community, she said.
When she got back to Alaska, Alexander said she learned that the Department of Environmental Conservation has classified Big Lake as an impaired body of water. So, she decided on a project to educate the public about better boating habits.
As part of her project, she made clean boating kits with tips on how to prevent spills, bilge pillows to absorb spilled oil and gas and a survey with questions like, “Did you know Big Lake is classified as impaired?”
After spending some time at the lake, she noticed it wasn’t just adults who had a role to play in protecting the lake’s water. She said she saw kids filling up Jet Skis and other watercraft along the edge of the lake and wanted to teach them to take care of the water, too.
To that end she made a display about the project for the Big Lake Library and scheduled time to talk to students at Big Lake Elementary about ways they can help, too. She also did a clean boating presentation at the 2012 Solstice Fair at Sportsman’s Warehouse in Wasilla.
Alexander said Catherine Inman and CookInlet Keeper also deserve thanks for helping her with her Keep Big Lake Clean project. The teen said she met Inman several years ago through the Girl Scouts’ Mat-Su Women of Science and Technology program. This year, about 320 girls from kindergarten through 12th grade participated in the annual Girl Scout program.
“She really went above and beyond,” Alexander said. “She’s an expert. That really helped me with my project.”
Toward the goal of making the effort sustainable, Sportsman’s Warehouse has agreed to hand out bilge pillows in its boating department and Inman will continue Alexander’s survey.
After the panel discussion, Alexander also met with all three members of Alaska’s Congressional delegation.
“It’s definitely something I will never forget,” she said.
Contact Heather A. Resz at 352-2268