From Girl Scout to Genetic Researcher

Mentors and hands-on Girl Scouts experiences shape SMU student’s path to STEM career

When I reflect on my personal journey to becoming a genetic researcher, I think that my entire decade of preparing for post-secondary education was founded on the basis of one question: “How does that work?”

Girl Scouts taught me that asking questions is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of curiosity. My troop members and I were encouraged to ask questions during every activity. During sleepovers at the zoo, we guessed which animals were responsible for making those funny and sometimes even terrifying sounds that we heard in the darkness. During camping trips, we cataloged and classified all sorts of plants in our field journals. And one question in particular, the question of how something works, of how all of the little parts come together to make up a whole, is a question that drives me to pursue my passion for genetic research.

I embarked upon my journey to becoming a genetic researcher by discovering my own origins. I learned in biology class that my identical twin sister and I are the closest genetic match of any two people in the world. At one point, very, very early in our development, when we were still one egg, we shared the exact same DNA before splitting into two completely separate beings. All our differences that now exist between us have been the result of random, spontaneous DNA mutations. Learning that fact kick-started my interest in the field of genetics.

Through a Girl Scout trip to the Perot Museum, I remember being completely mesmerized by a strawberry DNA extraction. I had the chance to spool out the very substance that tells the strawberry how to look and act like a strawberry, as opposed to an orange or a cactus. Can you imagine how bizarre our existence would be without that kind of organization?

Self-discovery

Each experience I was given in life, and through Girl Scouts, built upon the previous – inspiring, enticing, connecting me to people and opportunities, and helping me ask the right questions.

As I matured, my Girl Scout network expanded to encompass more female mentors from whom I can seek guidance and support. During my first semester at SMU, I was curious about all of the different avenues to pursue genetic research. There was one specific professor’s research project that I was very interested in, but I didn’t exactly know how to go about approaching him and express my interest. As a first semester freshman, I was extremely nervous about the prospect of speaking to a renowned and tenured professor. Fortunately, through a Girl Scout connection with an online mentorship platform called the Next Scholars Program, I was able to find a mentor who is a female trailblazer in genetic research. She gave me valuable advice, helped me find my inner confidence, and reminded me that my I was in control of my own STEM journey.

With a reinvigorated sense of courage, I visited this professor’s office hours one afternoon and asked questions about his research for what felt like hours. At the end, I found that my bravery really paid off because he actually offered me a position with his research team. I am now part of a team seeking answers to questions such as:  “How does Alzheimer’s Disease work? What are the genetic causes of this disease? How can we develop medications to slow its progression?”

It feels truly amazing to know that I am a part of a team that asks questions, digs deeper, and remains optimistic that will we can find a way to help Alzheimer’s patients like my grandmother, who is one of the 5.7 million people in the world who are affected by this disease. We have all seen how this disease steals precious time away from the lives of our loved ones, and I am grateful that Girl Scouts has instilled me with the courage to fight the disease with science, in the name of my grandmother, my friend’s great-grandparents, your parent, and our future generations.

I am curious about genetic phenomena and diseases because of how it has personally affected my life. Girls need opportunities to discover the vast array of STEM fields and professions.  They need experiences to help unearth topics that resonate with them. When girls are given a variety of opportunities, they can discover for themselves what they are naturally curious about. Self-discovery is self-empowering.

Future Female Leaders

When I first heard about the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas STEM Center of Excellence, it seemed like a remarkable concept, the first of its kind. The investment our community has made in this facility, and in the programs offered there are a reminder that the leaders and shapers of our community are letting girls know that they have a huge support system behind them, cheering them on as they charge ahead with their ideas. It is because of my Girl Scout experience that I’m surrounded by people who help girls just like me develop the confidence to ask and find answers to our infinite questions about our incredible world.

Girls need you. We need strong female leaders. We need mentors. We need women to allow us to job shadow and ask the tough questions about what it’s like to be a female in a male-dominated industry. What obstacles and challenges have you had to overcome?  What gives you the courage to stand up for yourself and rightly advocate for equal pay and equal say?

No matter the industry – your skills are valued, and needed by our girls. We are the future leaders. We’re your future co-workers. Invest in us now by instilling confidence, developing our courage, and helping us build our character. Volunteer as a troop leader. Be a mentor to a high school Girl Scout.  Participate in our Girl Scout Leadership Institute job shadowing program. Volunteer at the STEM Center. Imparting your knowledge on our future workforce is one of the greatest ways you can give back to our community.

To learn more about how you can volunteer with Girl Scouts, visit www.gsnetx.org/volunteer.

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