Award-winner brings passion for science to girls

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WESTBROOK — It’s never too late to become a Girl Scout.

That’s especially true when a woman shares the organization’s values and inspires girls to explore an interest in science. Laura Thompson became an honorary Girl Scout earlier this month when she was named the 2018 Woman of Distinction by Girl Scouts of Maine.

“I wasn’t a Girl Scout then, but I am now and will be henceforth,” she said, referring to her childhood. “It’s part of the honor.”

Thompson became involved with the Girl Scouts of Maine through Sappi, where she works as the director of sustainable development and policy initiatives. Sappi began partnering with the organization several years ago and a number of employees are volunteers or troop leaders.

“It makes good business sense for Sappi to partner with the Girl Scouts,” said Thompson, who was recently transferred to the company’s Boston branch.

“We want future leaders in STEM,” she said, referring to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Sappi, which produces and supplies paper and packaging products, leads activities and initiatives with local Girl Scout troops. The company, with a mill in Westbrook and an office in South Portland, has brought girls into their offices and labs to teach them how paper is made and how recycling works. 

“We’re really trying to encourage our employees to be more involved with voluntarism and Girl Scouts relies heavily on volunteers,” Thompson said.

Thompson said she’s loved working with the Girl Scouts because she gets to teach young girls about the importance of science. She said empowering them to get involved in the field and realize they can work in science is important to her. Thompson has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of New Hampshire and master’s and Ph.D in paper science from the Institute of Paper Science and Technology.

When she was first nominated for the Woman of Distinction award, Thompson said she was sure there were other women who were more deserving. 

“It was a surprise to be nominated, but as I thought about it, it made more sense,” she said. “The Girl Scouts has a heavy focus on STEM and they may have wanted to honor a leader in that field.”

Joanne Crepeau, the CEO of Girl Scouts of Maine, said that’s exactly why Thompson was chosen.

“Exposure to STEM professionals has real impact on girls, especially when they see women pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” she said. “This is why we are thrilled to honor Laura Thompson, whose professional pursuit and many accomplishments make her a perfect role model for women, of any age, today.”

Being recognized for her passion and being able to show girls that science is a worthy and fun passion has been an honor, Thompson said.

“STEM is very near and dear to me because of my background and interests and it’s nice to know they recognize in me what I like about them,” she said.

Thompson said when she found out earlier this year that she’d be receiving the honor, she wanted to show her appreciation in a meaningful way. Along with others at Sappi, she began developing a paper-making patch, which is similar to a badge girls can earn for learning skills or completing tasks and projects.

To develop the patch, Thompson had to meet Girl Scout standards and test projects and activities on girls to see if they were worthwhile and enjoyable. She had to develop criteria for earning the patch as well as descriptions for various activities. Patch activities include making paper, recycling, and forestry.

Thompson presented the new patch, which no other state has, at the Girl Scouts of Maine’s 21st Annual Women of Distinction Gala on Dec. 7 when she was given her award. She said her goal is to make it a national badge, and that Maine was a great place to start.

“With paper making being so important in Maine we figured this was the best place to start the paper-making patch,” Thompson said.

Girls from Troop 574 in Westbrook and Troop 2070 in Gorham have already been awarded the patch.

Thompson said she’s happy to see that the Girl Scouts allows girls to explore a variety of interests and fields, especially ones that have historically been stereotyped for boys. She said she hopes Maine Girl Scouts are inspired and empowered to work in Maine’s paper manufacturing industry.

“The more I’ve come to know the organization the more I see the impact they’ve had on girls and their leadership skills,” she said.

Empowering girls to become leaders is incredibly important, Crepeau said, especially in traditionally male-dominated fields.

“For 105 years, Girl Scouts has helped shape girls’ aspirations and confidence in areas that need more female leadership,” she said. “Women are particularly underrepresented in STEM fields and Girl Scouts has programs committed to increasing girls’ interests and abilities in these disciplines.”

Crepeau added that, “Girl Scouts encourages girls to make a difference in the world and Laura is certainly doing that.”

Thompson said she is touched by the honor and hopes that the girls she’s worked with have been impacted by what she’s taught them.

“It’s an honor to be recognized like that and know you’re giving back to an organization that does so much for girls in Maine,” she said.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Sappi’s Laura Thompson helped develop a paper science Girl Scout patch with Troop 2070 from Gorham and Troop 574 from Westbrook by doing activities such as reusing cardboard to make toy robots.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.