For almost as long as she can remember, Catherine de Wolff ’23 has been involved with the Girl Scouts of America. At five years old, her parents enrolled her in a local Brownie troop, and now, more than a decade later, Catherine has stayed committed to the organization’s mission to empower young women to make the world a better place. This year, she achieved the organization’s highest honor, the Girl Scout Gold Award, with a game-changing project for her community, designed to be accessible worldwide.
Earning a Gold Award is no small feat. As the Girl Scouts say, “Gold Award Girl Scouts are rock stars, role models, and real-life heroes.” Only 5% of eligible Girl Scouts successfully earn the Gold Award after taking on a local community issue or a global problem, proposing a project that aims to fix the problem, and then completing a complex set of requirements in order to realize that project. These are big ideas with potentially far-reaching impact, and to make it happen, the Girls Scouts aiming for this ultimate award personally recruit a trusted group of adults and community leaders to help guide them through the task.
Catherine knew quickly that she wanted to focus on an issue that many people around the world face, but one that also hits close to home. She chose to raise awareness around epilepsy, a neurological condition a close family member had lived with for most of their life, and a disorder that more than 50 million people suffer from, as well. Epilepsy causes seizures, and Catherine’s family had taught her what to do in case her relative had one. However, as she talked with friends and family about the condition, she realized a lot more awareness was needed.
“I was surprised by how many of my peers knew little to nothing about the disorder, let alone what to do if they ever came across someone experiencing a seizure. I saw an opportunity to combine my love of science and medicine with my passion for public service, all while developing a program and materials designed to educate and empower people throughout our communities,” explains Catherine.
Catherine dove into planning her project in her local community of Los Angeles, but when the pandemic hit in 2020, she quickly had to pivot her plans. She moved online and expanded her geographic range, reaching out to the Epilepsy Foundation in Connecticut, as well as to hospitals and universities both in Connecticut and California, eventually building a team of people that she interviewed over the internet and by phone. Her final project is a self-produced mini-documentary, along with a number of additional tutorial videos, all of which are posted on a dedicated YouTube channel. She also created several downloadable resource documents, with editorial reviews from some of the top experts in the field.
“Perhaps the single most exciting part of the journey was when I was finally able to post and present my finished products, and I began to receive notes and comments from people around the world,” says Catherine.
Back on campus, Catherine is busy balancing all her other activities – as a Cicerone, a member of Northfield League, a co-head of Science Club, and an Honor Board representative – and is the first to point out that this latest accomplishment is just one more milestone she could not have reached without the help and support of many others. In addition, she says her project helped give more direction to her future: “My Gold Award project has strengthened my desire to have an impact on community health, whether as a physician or in some other role I have yet to discover, who knows? I’m hoping I can continue to stay focused while remaining open to new opportunities and experiences ahead!”