Noticing Neighbors Abigail Collins, Gold Award Recipient
Throughout the month of October, we are highlighting stories from the accomplished Girl Scout Class of 2021. Today’s feature tells the story of Abigail Collins. With 13 years in Girl Scouts with Troop 967, she has achieved the highest honor available: the Gold Award. While one out of every two women has been a Girl Scout at some point in her life, only 6% follow it through to completing the Gold Award—and there is good reason for that. There are years of workshops, training, and collaborative projects that all lead up to the final solo project. With each new level, more ownership is expected, and that final project is the chance for the Girl Scout to create a plan around an issue that means the most to her. For her final project, Abigail has taken on the issue of STEM Job exposure for young girls. Her work created a sustainable solution that is now being used by local schools and libraries. For this interview, I got the chance to talk with her about her work in more detail.
Hayley: First of all, congratulations on all of your hard work.
Thank you. Hayley: Can you explain what Girl Scouts has meant to you? Abigail:
So to me, my mom was my troop leader when I was younger. She started when I was in kindergarten, and it was just a way to grow closer with her. But then as I grew older, more of the girls in my troop started to dissipate, and I was actually the only girl from my troop to continue to the Gold Award.
It was good to have friends that I could connect with when I was younger. But as I got older, it really helped me to develop my communication skills, my leadership, and my ability to serve the community by making an impact. It's helped me become really well rounded.
I love that you say well rounded, because I feel like Girl Scouts is really about the whole person. What are some values that you learned that you're going to carry with you?
I think just responsibility and respect for others, not judging other people when you see them because you don't know what they've gone through, and then also looking out for others. I'm going into college this year, and I know it's tough going in as a freshman, but everyone else is in the same boat. So I will be looking out for other people who may be struggling. That's just something that Girl Scouts has taught me how to do.
Hayley: That's a really beautiful perspective.
I know you've just had this big celebration, but our readers might not know about what this accomplishment means. Can you share a little bit about your project and what earned you that Gold Award?
Abigail: I created a project called Growing STEM, and I actually decided to do it during the time school was pushed back last year. One thing that I'm really grateful for with Covid is that the school's start date got pushed back, so I had that extra month to do my planning. I started it in July, and what I did was I created a curriculum with 11 different projects relating to 11 different engineering disciplines. Then I created a sign up in the community. I worked with my local church, Church of the Resurrection, and got some girls to sign up.
What age were you looking for? Abigail:
It was targeted towards elementary age girls because they don't really have much exposure to STEM. Typically, you’ll learn more about it in middle school, high school, and above. Then by that time, their interest has dissipated. So it’s about creating that interest early. Then throughout the fall semester, each week they had to work on one of those activities. During the first week it went through an intro to all the different engineering disciplines, then one activity per week after that.
Hayley: How were you guiding them through the activities? Abigail: I posted videos on my website with tutorials on how to do the activities, because some of them were more in depth. That way if they were younger elementary schoolers, they had that extra bit of assistance. I also worked with my Science National Honor Society, where I was actually already an officer in the club. That allowed me to partner my Gold Award with the network of that club, so I got the students who were in that to make more videos.
That way, it wasn't just my videos for the project. It also featured other students with more activities.
Hayley: What all came with each activity? Abigail: There was a video with directions, and a kit with the materials needed that I passed out at the beginning. Then the videos provided by other people from my school all used at-home materials. That way, the student didn't have to pick up anything, and could just find everything at the house. I wrapped up my Gold Award in January, and I'm continuing to partner with the Science National Honor Society to bring more videos.
Hayley: So since it’s on video, that really makes it accessible for everyone. Which is really cool. Was there any point where it grew to a level you didn’t expect?
Abigail: I actually had some people from California who were originally interested. But they weren’t here to pick up the kits, so that led me to create a fully virtual option.
On my website I have three tabs. I have my project videos, and then I have my virtual option videos, and the Science National Honor Society videos. So the videos from the virtual option and the National Honor Society all use at-home materials. That way the girl in California could do the same thing just by following along.
I love that you're leaving it all up so that people can continue to have that exposure. But it’s been a ton of work, right? What gave you that passion to keep going when there was a lot to do—what gave you that drive?
So to me, it's just a big thing I wanted to accomplish. Ever since I was young, I just knew: OK—I need to go the distance. I need to achieve this.
Then senior year came around and it was time. I needed to focus and really put in the work, so I actually just hunkered down in my basement. I think I ended up binge watching 3 different TV shows because I was putting all these activity kits together. So I was down there working and just told myself: I can do this. I'll get it done. Hayley: Yeah. Abigail:
Deadlines are what push me. I was really able to focus.
I have to ask: what shows did you watch?
Yes! I watched Cobra Kai, Jack Ryan, and a TV show called Hanna. I'm really into action-adventure. So I watched some TV, and I got my family to help me, too. During some nights, I would pull my sister downstairs and say: hey, can you put the beads in this bag for me? I would do one activity at a time, so they were really helpful with that.
You've had this whole whole journey with Girl Scouts, and this entire project. I want to know: How have you seen goodness during this? How has it shaped you?
One thing I did was I reached out to the parents of the girls using the lessons. If they were comfortable, they would send me pictures of the completed projects each week. So just getting to see that was really impactful, because with Covid I couldn't do anything in person.
Originally, I thought it would be a camp during the summer where everyone would come together and do these activities. But with Covid I had to break it up, which did make it a bit more work.
But getting to see their projects was really impactful to me. And some people even sent me videos! There's one specific girl I remember—her mom posted a video on Facebook of her launching a rocket she made using the materials. I saw it, and I was like: Oh my gosh. This really works! I really did it! Getting to see the impact through their eyes was something that really impacted me as well.
You can see Abigail’s full curriculum for Growing STEM on her website.
All media provided with special permissions given by Abigail Collins and the Girl Scouts of NE Kansas and NW Missouri organization.