Local girl scout earns Gold Award for Summer of STEM project

Katherine Buchanan has earned the Girl Scout Gold Award (Submitted Photo)

O’FALLON – Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois is pleased to announce that Katherine Buchanan has earned the Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest award a Girl Scout can receive. For her Girl Scout Gold Award project, she hosted a “Summer of STEM” to help area children – especially girls – become more interested and engaged in science, technology, engineering, and math.  

“Science, technology, engineering and math are fields that are mainly dominated by men. Through my Girl Scout Gold Award project, I hoped to encourage more girls to participate in STEM activities and eventually major in STEM fields in college,” she said. 

First, Buchanan planned and ran an activity room at the FIRST LEGO League Jr. Expo, which is an exhibition held for more than 30 robotics teams made up of six to ten year old students. Activities she planned included simple machines, science experiments, simple electrical circuits and LEGO build challenges.  

Next, she facilitated STEM sessions as part of the O’Fallon Public Library summer reading program, which ran for six weeks, included two age groups and educated up to 75 children per day. During the sessions, she led hands-on activities that explored topics like weather, physics, chemistry, electricity, space, and robotics. At each session, she also provided a take-home packet with experiments for children to conduct with their parents. She noted that some of the children she worked with had never participated in STEM activities before, and that she felt the outreach through the library was successful. 

The final part of Buchanan’s project was to host a three day FIRST LEGO League Jr. camp for more than 30 area youth. With the help of a volunteer team she recruited, she led sessions exploring the engineering design process, building solid structures, and programming motors and sensors using LEGO WeDo software. The students put on a small expo at the end of camp to show their parents what they learned during the week. She also created an evaluation system to help measure the outcomes of the camp. These evaluations showed that 83 percent of the girls who participated were excited to learn more about STEM following the day camp. 

Throughout her Girl Scout Gold Award project, Buchanan also updated a website sharing her progress using Wix, so that she could share the importance of STEM education and Girl Scouts’ valuable role in these fields. To help make her efforts sustainable, she recruited Girl Scouts to help run the FIRST LEGO League Jr. Expo activity room in the future, and enlisted local FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics team The Worm Gear Warriors to continue hosting STEM sessions at local libraries and during summer day camp. 

“Throughout my project, I had the ability to connect with a diverse group of children all looking to do the same thing, which was to have fun with science and electronics,” she said. “The audience was able to gain a better understanding of what STEM really entails and that it is just as important for girls to be involved as it is for boys.”  

Buchanan added that earning her Girl Scout Gold Award also helped her feel more confident being in charge of a large project, as well. 

“Since my Girl Scout Gold Award project lasted from April until the middle of August, it was a very intense process for me in which I learned a lot about myself,” she said. “Something new to me was being able to plan events and really take the lead. Earning the Girl Scout Gold Award has definitely given me the chance to improve my leadership skills.”  

Katherine is the daughter of Larry and Mary Buchanan She is completed her Girl Scout Gold Award during the summer following her senior year at O’Fallon Township High School, where she will graduated in 2018. Currently, she is a freshman at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville where she studies criminal justice and forensics.