I would go to Camp Birch Trails, a camp run by Girl Scouts of the Northwestern Great Lakes, in northern Wisconsin for two weeks. There was a progression of canoe trips campers could go on, starting in the Upper Wisconsin River, through the Michigamme River in the Upper Peninsula, to the Manitowish Waters in northern Wisconsin. The final trip, the Boundary Waters trip, was when campers who progressed through the previous trips would receive their red suspenders. Earning my red suspenders was the first goal I set for myself, even though I didn’t call it that at the time. Every year, I became a better paddler and learned how to successfully plan a wilderness trip, from meal planning and packing to navigation and wilderness safety. I completed my Boundary Waters trip with two other campers who had gone through most of the other canoe trips with me, as well as our favorite counselors, Stuffy and Cayenne (they swore that those were their real names).
While I have long lost my red suspenders, my love for nature and the outdoors that grew from those canoe trips has continued into adulthood. This passion was one of the reasons I completed my Girl Scout Gold Award (similar to the Boy Scout’s Eagle Award) at Coughlin Nature Area. Located in my hometown of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, my project included planting 200 trees, constructing park benches, creating signage and brochures about the plants and wildlife found at the reserve, and building a mallard duck nesting platform. Completing my Gold Award definitely wasn’t easy, and I wanted to quit. I learned that in order for a project of that magnitude to succeed, I needed a timeline. So even if that meant planting 200 trees with my family and friends the same day as prom, it needed to happen for me to stay on schedule. I think that aspect of completing my Gold Award prepared me in some ways for finishing my Ph.D. Creating timelines is especially challenging, but having “mini-goals” along the way helps you build something that seems small into something of much more importance.
Even in college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I was involved in Campus Girl Scouts, a student organization that worked to organize events for local girl scouts. One of my favorite events that we planned was an overnight with local troops at a nearby camp. The girls wrote and performed skits and we sang songs until our voices became hoarse. Recently, I visited the home of the founder of Girl Scouts, Juliette Gordon Low, located in Savannah, Georgia. Founded in 1912, Juliette Gordon Low or “Daisy” helped to united girls across the nation and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2012. While touring her house with the group, consisting of troops and their leaders, I was reminded of all the wonderful experiences I had with Girl Scouts, all because one woman started something extraordinary for girls.
Girl Scouts helped me become engaged in my community and provided me with countless leadership opportunities. I think it’s easy to see Girl Scouting as just the annual 8-year old and mom or dad walking around the neighborhood selling cookies. But for me, scouting enabled me to make a difference and I think that’s an important perspective for girls and boys. Girl Scouts wasn’t just singing songs and doing crafts—it made me think about new topics and not to be afraid to dream big.
However, none of my scouting achievements would have been possible without the endless support of my parents and my friend’s parents. Especially to my mom (who I know is reading this), thank you. My mom helped 10 girls complete their Gold Award between my troop and my sister’s troop. My friend, Jane, created a theater camp for elementary students for her Gold Award, while my sister developed a Prom Dress closet at our high school (It’s still running!). None of these projects would have been completed without the endless dedication of my mother, helping with paperwork, checking in, and being there to talk about whatever problems we were facing. So to all the parents out there involved in some form of Scouting, whether it be Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Venture Scouts or whatever, thank you. Your endless support and dedication is very much appreciated.
For most of my life, I did not want to become a scientist. Science seemed like a complicated, challenging endeavor that required too much math. I thought medicine would be a better fit, which was one of the deciding factors why I majored in biology in college. Yet, I’m currently pursuing a doctorate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Science. What changed? As part of an effort to gain the public’s interest in science and the education to become a scientist, my next series of blog posts will dive into my journey to become a scientist. Let’s get started….
One of my earliest memories at about 4 or 5 is playing on the playground with Jasmin. A whole group of us would "hang out," thanks to our mothers arranging all of our playdates. We'd go swimming, or go to the park, the zoo or each other's homes. It didn't matter what we did; we always had fun (I think the picture to the left shows that!). About a year later, however, Jasmin moved with her family to Connecticut, and shortly after was diagnosed with a rare bone disease called fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, or FOP.
As one of the most disabling genetic conditions, FOP causes the muscles, tendons, and ligaments to turn to bone. This in turn progressively restricts movement in the body and essentially forms a second skeleton. FOP affects 1 in 2 million people worldwide; there are approximately 300 confirmed cases in the United States. The rate of progression is unpredictable and flare-ups worsen the condition either spontaneously or after physical trauma, such as childhood immunizations, falls, surgeries, etc.
Jasmin noticed symptoms as early as 5 and after seeing 4 different doctors and undergoing numerous genetic testing, she was finally correctly diagnosed. (Check out Jasmin’s blog, "One Spirit, Two Skeletons," to hear more of her story). I did not quite understand what was happening to Jasmin, but I wanted to help. Thinking that money was the limiting factor to why a cure was not already found, I somehow was able to start a face-painting fundraiser at my church during summer picnics when I became a little older. I should probably mention my lack of artistic ability at this point—the designs were limited to rainbows and snakes and other images of the sort. But it was what little I could contribute, and it was my earliest effort to support scientific research.
So when people began asking me in elementary school what I wanted to be when I grew up, I immediately responded: medical researcher! I don’t think I truly understood what that meant at the time, but I knew I wanted to understand what was happening to my friend.
While I am clearly not a medical researcher today, one of my earliest interests in science was to comprehend the genetic condition that was causing physiological changes to my earliest friend. Jasmin and I are still friends today, but do not see each other often unless our summer visits to Wisconsin happen to match up.
For more information about FOP, I recommend checking out the following resources: