All Taylor Harwell wanted to do was earn her Girl Scouts Gold Award, the most prestigious award for girls in the organization.
In working toward that goal, Harwell, a junior at Auburn High School, found she was getting a lot more from the experience than just the hope of an award.
"Earning this award, you're all on your own," she said of the process. With previous accolades, she was able to work with other scouts or supervisors. "I think in the beginning I was really nervous. I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I can't contact all these people; they're not going to listen to me,' but they do.
"As it went on, I got more and more confident."
Harwell had to create a community service project and accumulate 100 service hours. She is currently working on finishing her service hours through an afterschool program she established for second-graders.
Harwell and a couple high school student volunteers lead the second-graders through science activities to increase their interest in STEM and "get them thinking about the world around them and how things work," Harwell said.
"I chose second grade because they are young enough to be impressionable but still old enough to be able to understand the topics that we're talking about," she said. "This is a way to get them to be inspired like I was in elementary school."
Harwell and her volunteers spend every Wednesday afternoon at an elementary school in Auburn, working with second-graders. They rotate schools, visiting Auburn Early Education Center, Cary Woods Elementary, Creekside Elementary and Dean Road Elementary.
And while Harwell does enjoy working with the students, she says she does not aim to be a teacher when she gets older. Her dream is to work in research.
"I'd rather be hands-on with actual science," she said.
She develops her lesson plans from ideas gleaned from books, her memories of science class when she was younger and from Pinterest.
Harwell said she enjoys working with the kids and seeing them learn.
"Some days it's really crazy because they get really excited," she said. "One day we had magnet painting; it got a little messy, but we cleaned up good. I just love the enthusiasm that they have, and it's so easy when they're ready to learn about it. It's interesting to them."
When she first started developing the afterschool program, Harwell was nervous. She wasn't used to leading an independent project. She said she has been surprised at her ability to be a leader and believes she would not have tapped into this part of herself if it weren't for Girls Scouts.
"We've done all these community service projects, and I don't think I would have been as up to doing this, like this big of a thing, if they hadn't prepared me," she said. "I'm more confident around adults and peers because you kind of have to be when you're leading and you're supposed to be the one who knows what to do. I think it's made me a better communicator."