Combining passions: NM Girl Scout wins Gold Award with new helipad design

Lifetime Girl Scout Natalie Aulwes, left, helps with the installation of a solar-powered light array that will illuminate a new helipad she designed for the Pajarito Mountain Ski Area. Her project helped her become a 2020 National Gold Award Girl Scout and earned her a $20,000 scholarship. (Courtesy of Girl Scouts Of NM Trails)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

People injured while skiing at Pajarito Mountain Ski Area will be able to get to a hospital faster thanks to a Los Alamos teenager who blended her interests in skiing, robotics and engineering to create a new helipad on the mountain.

Natalie Aulwes, 18, a lifetime member of Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails and an ambassador for Girl Scouts USA, designed and helped construct the new helipad, eliminating one time-consuming step in getting an injured person to the hospital.

In the process, Aulwes was one of 10 young women from around the country who earned a 2020 National Gold Award Girl Scout and, with it, a $20,000 scholarship.

“I wanted to combine my passions for robotics and engineering, as well as my passion for skiing and being outdoors,” said Aulwes, a 2020 graduate of Los Alamos High School, now a freshman at Texas A&M University where she is studying biomedical engineering.

A longtime member of Pajarito Mountain’s Ski Patrol, “I saw that we needed an updated helicopter pad, and I wanted to take that on and make it my own,” she said.

bright spotAn existing helicopter pad located farther away from the ski area requires that an accident victim be transferred to a ground ambulance as an intermediary step before getting the injured person to the air ambulance, she said.

“So we relocated the helicopter pad on the mountain and updated it so now we can easily move the injured on a toboggan sled pulled by a snowmobile and take them straight to the new helicopter landing site without the need for a ground ambulance.”

The new helipad measures 100 feet by 175 feet, making it larger than the old one, which can still be pressed into service in the event of multiple simultaneous accidents, she said.

Like the old pad, the new one sits on leveled bare earth. During the winter, the snow on the pad is regularly packed down. Aulwes designed and helped to install solar-charged, high-wattage LED locator lights “that can be seen for miles” and that sit atop poles located at each of the four corners.

National Gold Award Girl Scout winner Natalie Aulwes helped design and build a new helipad for Pajarito Mountain Ski Area, enabling injured skiers to get help more quickly.

Unlike the lighting array of the older helipad, Aulwes said she designed these to operate independently so that if one light becomes inoperable, the others will be unaffected.

Aulwes presented her project at a girls’ workshop on drafting and engineering in Los Alamos.

“When I was growing up, I realized there was a huge gap in terms of boys versus girls in my robotics class and, by my senior year in high school, I was the only female in my robotics class,” she said. “There needs to be a bigger push for girls and young women in STEM” (science, technology, engineering and math).

“I also remembered from when I was a younger Girl Scout and was doing my FIRST LEGO League team challenge how much having an older girl mentor me really pushed me to stay in robotics,” Aulwes said. “I wanted to provide that same introduction in a safe working environment where girls can feel encouraged and focused.”

To earn the National Gold Award, “Girl Scouts must identify the source of a problem, develop a sustainable solution, and engage their communities in bringing about the solution,” Girl Scout USA chief executive officer Judith Batty said in a statement.”

Among those reviewing the project applications were former National Gold Award winners, leaders from a range of professional fields and staff members from Girl Scouts USA.

The scholarship money was donated by Kappa Delta Foundation, the Arconic Foundation and former Girl Scouts USA board member Susan Bulkeley Butler.

Aulwes is the daughter of Robert and Sheila McClees of Los Alamos.

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