Several of Plano’s Girl Scouts are receiving their Gold Awards this year, leading up to the Young Women of Distinction luncheon on Nov. 3. We’ve checked into two students’ Gold Award projects and how they’re feeling about the incoming awards.
Kelsey Jahnke, a senior at Plano West Senior High School, is working on her Girl Scout Gold Award, focusing on fentanyl awareness following the death of her friend, Sienna Vaughn. Kelsey attended various fentanyl awareness events in Plano before taking on her own initiatives, including the Fentanyl Drug Forum hosted by the Plano Police Department and Plano Senior High School Substance Abuse Panel. She then created posters around the Plano West campus for National Fentanyl Awareness Day and is currently planning a large fentanyl awareness event in Plano to inform middle and high school students and the wider community.
Anushka Sridhar, a senior in the International Baccalaureate program at Plano East High School, is a science club vice president and active member of the National Honor Society. Motivated by her great aunt’s battle with Parkinson’s disease, she used her Gold Award project to develop a non-invasive vibration strap, collaborating with neurologists to minimize hand tremor symptoms in Parkinson’s patients. Twenty-five straps were donated to patients to test for efficacy, and the results led to a patent application and the publication of a paper, according to Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas.
Tell me a little bit about your involvement in the Girl Scouts and what that means to you.
Anushka: Though I had wanted to be a Girl Scout even as a kindergartener, I became a Juliette (independent GS) only in middle school. When COVID-19 hit, the combination of not having a troop to be associated with and lacking social connection due to the pandemic made me feel isolated. I started participating in several online Girl Scouts events, and after learning how girls positively impacted their communities, I decided to complete my journey and do my Gold Award. Especially going through the Mission Sisterhood Journey, I felt so connected and enjoyed interacting with like-minded and motivated girls addressing problems within their communities, and that social connection was not something I realized I needed at the time. Though my journey hasn’t been in a traditional troop setting, knowing that Girls Scouts gave me a more extensive network of girls and mentors to lean on made me feel more hopeful and confident.
Girl Scouts has given me opportunities and experiences that have shaped me into who I am today. I had the chance to proudly share my artwork to illustrate GS Jumpstart and GS USA’s national strategy. I’ve always loved expressing my creativity through art, music, dance, & my decade-long participation in a global non-profit program – Destination Imagination, that fosters problem-solving. Little did I know that the potential to innovate solutions to societal problems is endless when creativity and a passion for science overlap.
With a passion for technology and a creative mind, I realized I had the potential to address a pressing need in my community in a meaningful way. With the leadership and innovative skills that Girl Scouts taught me, I used my technical skills to address a global cause & sustain it via my Gold Award project. The research done as part of the Gold Award was instrumental in successfully publishing a paper in the International Journal of Emerging Science and Engineering (IJESE). It also led to filing a patent for my device at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Kelsey: I have been involved in Girl Scouts since 2011, when I was in kindergarten. In the first few years of scouting, I was in a very large Girl Scout troop, but after a couple of years, I realized I was better suited for a troop of a smaller size. My new troop was co-led by my mom and another mom, Miss Stephanie Vaughn. Our smaller troop size allowed us to go on more trips and become involved in more activities, which gave the other girls and I the opportunity to have more personal connections with each other. Girl Scouting has given me many opportunities to learn and build my people skills, and has been one of the only areas of my life where I have consistently had a sense of belonging.
What does this achievement mean to you?
Anushka: Earning the title of Young Woman of Distinction is incredibly meaningful to me. I pursued this Gold Award project solely with the intention of serving my community and addressing an issue that I am extremely passionate about. I love technology and engineering, and I wanted to use that love to address a problem that my community faced. The fulfillment I experienced upon its completion was indescribable, and I’m immensely grateful for this honor. Through the Gold Award process, I have gained valuable leadership and life skills and learned so much about myself. This journey has given me the courage to push away self-limiting beliefs and boundaries and the confidence that anyone can positively impact the community, regardless of age and skill. I now know the niche area I am most passionate about – the intersection of science, service, and entrepreneurship. This realization will serve as a guiding star, influencing my future educational pursuits and career choices.
Kelsey: I feel beyond honored to even have the privilege of working toward earning my Gold Award, but I also know that, even after I earn it, I will continue working to make positive changes in my community. More than anything, the Gold Award is not just a recognition of what you’ve already accomplished—-it also shows your capability and the skill sets you’ve gained along the way.
Tell me a bit about your Gold Award projects.
Anushka: Millions of people worldwide have Parkinson’s disease (PD), a neurodegenerative disorder that causes uncontrollable tremors. There is no known cure, and few easily accessible medical treatments can target the tremors and minimize the disease’s physical impact. Seeing my great aunt suffer from PD, I witnessed firsthand how her quality of life was impacted, and even simple daily tasks became increasingly difficult. I became interested in learning more about the disease and came across a study about whole-body vibrational therapy. Whole-body vibrational therapy had promising results in helping to offset tremors, but such treatment is expensive, not easily accessible, and still in the research phase. With my great aunt in mind, I realized that I wanted to use my love for engineering in my gold award project to build low-cost, non-invasive vibrational bands to mitigate the physical symptoms caused by Parkinson’s. After extensive research and talking to medical professionals, I created a prototype that I call SPARKS – Smart PARKinson’s Strap – which is simple to use and can be easily created and maintained. I tested my device on members from the Dallas Area Parkinson’s Society (DAPS), a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of PD patients) to prove the band’s efficacy. The feedback I received from the participants while developing the band not only helped me improve my design but far exceeded my expectations and made me feel so proud that the device, even if small, made a difference. Not only was I able to address a prevalent issue with this project, but I was able to reach a global platform when I had the opportunity to partner with a non-profit in India, FrontEnders Foundation (a non-profit that strives to increase awareness of Parkinson’s) in Chennai, India. In addition to donating 25 wrist bands to the two non-profit organizations, I also created instructional brochures that provide background about PD, vibrational therapy, and instructions for maintaining the wristband.
Kelsey: Near the beginning of this year, I started thinking about what I wanted to center my Girl Scout Gold Award project around. I remember sitting down with another friend from my troop on February 11th to discuss some possible Gold Award ideas. I had initially planned to focus my project on servicing our local Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing communities due to my experiences in American Sign Language classes and my involvement in Plano West’s ASL Honor Society and ASL
Club (I even have the privilege of serving as the Plano West ASL Honor Society President this year). However, after the sudden death of my friend, Sienna Vaughn (the daughter of MissStephanie Vaughn, who co-led the troop with my mom) only week later on February 19th, due to fentanyl poisoning, I knew that I needed to change the direction of my project completely. I needed the community to know that all kinds of substances can contain fentanyl—especially pills. I needed to support what so many who have lost loved ones had already been trying to warn our community about—-that these pills are here, they are being marketed as real prescription medications, and that they contain lethal doses of fentanyl. For the past six months, I have dedicated much of my time to learning more about the ongoing fentanyl epidemic. I suddenly found myself at the Plano Event Center, Schimelpfenig Middle School, Plano Senior High School, the Wylie Collin College campus, and even in Austin to hear the governor speak. Accompanied by my wonderful mother, I jumped at any and every opportunity to learn more about the ongoing fentanyl epidemic and how it has been impacting my community.
At these events, I found there to be two common themes: the absence of the younger demographic, and the lack of knowledge surrounding fentanyl and its deadly effects. I am hoping to bridge this knowledge gap for younger audiences through my project, and especially through my upcoming event, A Focus on Fentanyl: Community Fentanyl Awareness Event. It will be held on Saturday, September 23rd, 2023, at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (2401 Legacy Drive, Plano, TX) from 10:00 AM to noon. My goal with this event is to bridge the knowledge gap about fentanyl (especially for teenagers and young adults), and to help our larger community gain a greater understanding of fentanyl, who it is affecting, and why it is affecting so many people. I hope that, through my project, lives can be saved by using education and awareness.