Thursday, May 24, 2018

2018 Awards of Distinction | Girl Scout Honorees

2018 Girl Scout of Distinction Alexis Mandell, left, and 2018 Girl Scout Humanitarian Maria Ciao, right, received their awards at the Pittsburgh Awards of Distinction luncheon on Friday, May 18.
Girl Scout of Distinction
Alexis Mandell’s 12 years as a Girl Scout have helped her cultivate strong leadership skills, which inspired her to help other girls develop those skills as her Gold Award project. Pairing that inspiration with her passion for science, Mandell aimed to impact the lack of encouragement for young girls who are interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers.

“Sadly, girls are often shut out of STEM because of the preconceived notion that science and math are for boys. As a result, women represent only about one in five people employed in the fields of computer science, mathematics, engineering and the physical sciences,” said Mandell in her interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

For her Gold Award project, Mandell produced the Growing Girls’ Roots in STEM Science Fair, an all-girl science fair for fourth through eighth graders. Twenty-three participants followed the scientific method to research, hypothesize, test, and present on a topic in the fields of biology, environmental science, or physical science. Mandell coordinated STEM professionals to volunteer as judges, and her website,, provides educators and parents with resources to host more all-girl science fairs.

 Outside of Girl Scouts, Mandell participates in her high school orchestra, Irish dancing, and tennis. She is a member of the National Honor Society and is the public relations officer of North Hills’ Students Against Destructive Decisions Club. After graduation, Mandell will be continuing her education at Duke University with a plan to study neuroscience on a pre-medicine track.

She thanks her parents and her project adviser, Rebecca Watters, for their support and help in making her Gold Award project possible.

Mandell further thanks the Girl Scout Movement for allowing her to learn the leadership skills necessary to make a difference in today’s world and for helping her make lifelong friends along the way.

Girl Scout Humanitarian
Service to others and leadership come naturally to Maria Ciao, a Girl Scout since she was a Daisy in kindergarten. Ciao’s Gold Award project improved safety and accessibility of a local playground for children with autism and other disabilities.

Ciao is an avid equestrian and has combined her love of horses into years of community service at Glade Run Lutheran Services with a program that helps children with autism enjoy activities like riding horses. Inspired by seeing how animal therapy helped engage children with social challenges, Ciao earned her Girl Scout Silver Award by co-authoring a children’s book about autism that featured a friendly horse as the narrator.

Ciao saw further needs in her community for children with autism. From 2015 through spring 2018, she worked with her local government, the Autism Society of Pittsburgh, and community groups to make safety improvements and add sensory-friendly components to an existing playground at Allegheny County’s North Park. With consultation from experts, she coordinated the installation of tactile and musical sensory panels that are accessible to children with autism and children in wheelchairs, addressed safety issues, and made aesthetic upgrades to make the space welcoming.

Ciao hopes that her project is a model for more public playgrounds to incorporate sensory-stimulating components so that all children, regardless of ability, can play together and have fun in a safe space.

To girls considering the Girl Scout Gold Award, Caio says, “Volunteer wherever you can and don’t fear the weight of the project—because in the end it’s worth it. I never realized the positive ripple effect this project would have—but then I saw the bigger picture.”

Ciao will pursue a degree in public relations at the University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio this fall, where she also plans to continue her advocacy for people with autism.

She is very honored to be named as 2018 Girl Scout Humanitarian and is most grateful for the support and guidance she has received from her parents and family, troop, and the Girl Scout Movement.