Taking the STEM World by STORM at OU

Gold Award Alumna Spotlight: Rachel Norris

Girl Scouts know that no challenge is too great if you put your mind to it. Gold Award Alumna Rachel Norris took the confidence she gained in Girl Scouts to conquer incredible academic success as a woman in STEM and give back to her community. By combining service, a love of Girl Scouts and STEM, Rachel has is helping change the course of gender inequality in the sciences with her own successes and by filling the STEM pipeline by inspiring younger Girl Scouts.

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As a girl in Girl Scouts, Rachel loved spending time at camp! Starting in 5th grade, she went every summer, including becoming a counselor at Camp Oakledge and Camp Daisy in 2013. “My family didn’t travel a lot, but camp gave me that sense of independence. I could do what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it within the camp program verses having a more structured life during the school year,” Rachel said, This independence and a love of service her troop experience instilled inspired her to go for her Highest Awards.

Rachel joined Girl Scouts as a Daisy and continued through high school where she earned her Gold Award in 2012. She proudly earned both Bronze and Silver with her troops and Gold Award on her own. Having grown up in Kansas, Rachel is no stranger to dangerous weather and wanted to do something to educate others for her Gold Award project. Working with Johnson County, Kansas, she revamped the youth severe weather preparedness curriculum that currently existed only on VHS tapes from 1999. Focusing on flood, lightning and tornado safety, she narrowed the curriculum specifically for Kansas youths and gave it new life. She taught the program at elementary schools around town and became an official weather spotter.

Her project was so stellar that it earned her the prestigious Beth Winters Scholarship. Beyond the Scholarship itself, the networking opportunities she had with other Alumna and other Beth Winters Scholarship recipients was her first step into the world of Alumnae. “At the banquet I got to hear about other Gold Award projects, the impact their projects had on the communities and what they were going to school for. It was my Alumnae experience and something I felt very adult doing,” Rachel said.

When she was gearing up to move to Oklahoma for school at the University of Oklahoma (OU) after earning her Gold Award, she knew her Girl Scout experience made that transition easier for her and her family. “Girl Scouts gives you opportunities that are very personalized […] It provides you a bridge to where you want to get to professionally and academically. I know my parents had confidence that I had the skills I needed to be able to go to school in another state because of what I had achieved in Girl Scouts,” Rachel said.

Now as a college senior at OU, Rachel knows some of the core skills she learned in Girl Scouts – communication and confidence – have contributed to her successes. “As a Brownie selling cookies, I had to talk to new people, remember information and explain the cookies in ways they could understand. As you progress into Bronze and Silver Awards you have to learn to coordinate with people, reserve a venue […] things like that. Then getting my Gold Award, I had to be a sales person to sell that my idea was worth the time to others. I wouldn’t have learned those skills if not for Girl Scouts,” Rachel said.

In addition to learning to communicate, she learned to talk about her accomplishments with confidence. Rather than letting her successes hide quietly on a resume, she has the confidence to sell herself in a professional setting. That confidence has led to a successful college career. Rachel is the first student in six years to attempt a dual major in Meteorology and Electrical Engineering and the first student in more than a decade to achieve it, as she will have earned both her degrees by December 2016!

Even though she’s been away at college for the last few years, she’s kept in touch with the family she formed in Girl Scouts. “I’ve kept in touch with my leader and several of the girls…it’s been a really rewarding experience, even after, to be able to say I’m a lifetime Girl Scout,” Rachel said. Becoming Lifetime Members was so important to her troop, they fundraised collectively to buy Lifetime Memberships for every girl in the troop when they graduated. What a great dedication to Girl Scouts!

Aside from personal connections, she’s stayed involved in Oklahoma, by working with the Women in Electrical Engineering group to help bring STEM programming to Girl Scouts in the area. As a group, they’re helping build the STEM pipeline.

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Rachel’s next big life step is to continue her education by going to graduate school in another state. Being a woman in STEM, it’s important for her to be her best and inspire more women to become STEM leaders.  “I’ve had three internships so far and on one of the missions, the Director of the program was a woman and she was really respected by the men. That was really nice for me to see. Meteorology is getting a lot more integration. I think it’s a lot more inviting when both genders are working together. I hope that continues to become the case for engineering in the next couple decades,” Rachel said.

We want to say WAY TO GO to Rachel for her incredible work as a woman in STEM and for her dedication to service. By giving back to Girl Scouts through STEM, she’s helping to fill the STEM pipeline and make her dream of an integrated gender engineering workforce closer to a reality.

If you know of an awesome Gold Award Alumna, share their story in the comments below!

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