Sewickley teen's love of nature leads to Girl Scout Gold Award
While Sonia Morrill was a child playing in creeks and figuring out how the natural world worked, she never could have believed that years later, her interest in nature would lead to “gold.”
Last month, Morrill, 16, a Quaker Valley junior, received her Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest award a Girl Scout can earn, after creating an interactive exhibit for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood.
An ambassador Girl Scout for Glen Oaks Girl Scout Troop 50856, Morrill is the first Girl Scout in the area in at least 18 years to earn the award, according to Barbara Thaw, service unit manager of the Glen Oaks Girl Scouts, which covers the area from Glenfield to Fair Oaks.
Morrill of Sewickley, a Girl Scout for 10 years and a volunteer teen museum docent for three, said she inherited her interest in the natural world from her parents, Karen Schmidt, who leads her daughter's troop, and Jamie Morrill. Both parents studied biology in college.
She said the museum was the perfect place to fulfill the service and leadership requirements for the Gold Award.
Her interactive exhibit provides education to the public as an act of service and requires her leadership in training other volunteers to run the exhibit, she said.
“When I was trying to decide what to do for my project, I realized that the museum did not have a lot of displays of reptiles or amphibians, which are some of my favorite animals in the natural world. I realized that I could amend the lack of information and specimens displayed in the museum by making an amphibian/reptile exhibit of my own,” she said.
As a docent, Morrill helps to run exhibits where the public can interact, and she leads activities that bring the artifacts behind glass to life.
The interactive exhibits allow museum visitors to touch and interact with the artifacts. For example, a visitor can hold a fossil at the dinosaur cart or play African instruments at the Africa cart.
“Sometimes we send visitors on scavenger hunts around the exhibit to find the artifacts that we gave them information about. Sometimes we tell (true) stories about the artifacts that help people make connections between the natural world and themselves,” she said.
For her project, Morrill created her own mobile exhibit focusing on reptiles and amphibians. Museum visitors can pick up a snake skeleton or touch the backbone of a turtle.
“My finished project is a cart like most of the other interactive exhibits. However, this cart provides much more information to the public than existing exhibits by displaying some of the museum's massive, behind-the-scenes collection of amphibians and reptiles,” she said.
The cart, which has been at the museum for a year and will remain permanently, also has been taken outside the museum to inform a wider range of people.
Morrill said April Claus, Fern Hollow Nature Center naturalist in Sewickley Heights, was helpful in allowing the cart to travel to a few of the summer camp programs where Morrill made a presentation. Claus also supplied a few of the specimens on the cart.
A few teachers at Quaker Valley also helped Morrill with her project by allowing her to observe their science teaching kits.
“I looked at some Earth science kits from the elementary school, which gave me a better idea of how many specimens to have on the cart and to gave me a better idea of what kinds of things would capture a child's attention,” she said.
Along with her project advisor, Angela Scardina, a few other staff members at the museum also helped, including CeeJay Levine, Morrill's manager, Pat McShea and Steve Roberts.
“There are a number of other teen docents at the museum who I work with to run these exhibits, and these people were some of the most helpful in making my project a reality.
“I am grateful to my parents and local Girl Scout leaders as well for encouraging me to earn this award.”
Morrill also is a member of the Three Rivers Rowing Association and the Quaker Valley Marching Band. She works on the high school literary magazine and is active in her church.
She said she would like to attend Cornell University in New York or The College of Wooster in Ohio to study biology and engineering to become a surgeon or a biomedical engineer.
Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or firstname.lastname@example.org.