Op-ed: Girl Scout reflects on winning telescope award

I have been a Girl Scout since I was in kindergarten. Since I was five, Girl Scouts has taught me to try new things and challenge myself every day. Girl Scouts has allowed me to challenge myself without fear of failure. It is also a place where I can grow from my mistakes.

When I was in fifth grade, I built my first telescope. I was part of an Astronomy Club run by Girl Scouts at the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport. The telescope was a small refractor, simply made from a kit, but that telescope was enough to pique my interest in astronomy.

Every year, the Springfield Telescope Makers of Springfield, Vermont, hold a convention for amateur telescope makers and anyone interested in astronomy, called Stellafane. Amateur astronomers pour out of the woodwork every summer to congregate around the Stellafane clubhouse. People come to compete in the telescope building competitions, to grind their own mirrors, or just exchange ideas with other amateur astronomers. I have been working on a telescope for the past few years, and this year I deemed it complete enough to make the pilgrimage to Stellafane. I never expected to be one of a handful of girls and women who arrived with telescopes, never mind being one of the youngest competing. But one of the things Girl Scouts has taught me is that I should not be daunted by this; they have taught me to have confidence in myself no matter what.

Some of the telescopes were meticulously crafted with hand-turned screws and beautiful carved mounts. Most were polished to some degree with perfectly collimated mirrors and shiny aluminum fittings. Mine just looked like a concrete forming tube with a box of plywood attached. One person commented that it looked “like something John Dobson would like.”

Later that weekend, I was sitting in the hangar-like pavilion with hundreds of other people watching the awards ceremony. All of the optical awards were given to men, most of them over the age of about 50. Then, the mechanical awards were up. I did not expect to win anything, so when my name was called I just sat there for a moment, in shock. I won the junior category, but I was also the only woman to win any award.

Being a Girl Scout is about more than cookies and crafts; it is about building confidence and leadership skills while having fun with friends. Girl Scouts are leaders — we push ourselves to achieve more and be better. We spend time in a supportive environment trying new things, learning from failure, and taking healthy risks. With positive benefits like these, I think every girl should be a Girl Scout!

To join or volunteer, please visit gsofct.org.

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