Natalie Aulwes Wins National Girl Scout Award For Designing And Building Solar-Powered Heli-Pad On Pajarito Mountain

Los Alamos High School alumna Natalie Aulwes is the recipient of a 2020 National Girl Scouts Gold Award. Courtesy photo

Natalie Aulwes, top left, and the nine other national recipients of 2020 National Girl Scouts Gold Awards. Screenshot/Los Alamos Reporter

Natalie Aulwes leads a STEM workshop for girls as part of her Goal Award project. Courtesy photo

Pajarito Mountain Ski Area staff clear an area for the heli-pad. Courtesy photo

One of the boxes Natalie Aulwes designed and built to house strobe lights at her heli-pad project on Pajarito Mountain. Photo by Maire O’Neill/

Natalie Aulwes is recognized by Kathy Hopkinah Hannan, National Board Chair, and Judith Batty, CEO of the Girls Scouts of the USA. Screenshot/Los Alamos Reporter

Dr. Robert McClees assists Natalie Aulwes with part of the construction for her Gold Award project. Courtesy photo

Natalie Aulwes has been a member of Pajarito Mountain Ski Patrol for three years. Courtesy photo

Natalie Aulwes gets some assistance from fellow Pajarito Mountain ski patroller Mike O’Neill. Courtesy photo

Natalie Aulwes works on her award winning helipad project accompanied by her parents Dr. Robert and Sheila McClees, and brother Ethan Aulwes. Natalie and Ethan are members of the Pajarito Mountain Ski Patrol and Dr. Robert McClees is the medical director. Courtesy photo


Natalie Aulwes, 18, of Los Alamos joined nine other young women Thursday evening for an exciting nationally-broadcast virtual event celebrating the recipients of the 2020 National Girl Scouts Gold Awards, watched by parents, family and friends from throughout the country.

The awards are given to Girl Scout Seniors and Ambassadors whose Gold Award projects demonstrated extraordinary leadership, had a measurable and sustainable impact, and addressed a local challenge related to a national and/or global issue. They are presented to young women who are taking matters into their own hands and generating much-needed change in the world.

To earn her Gold Award, Aulwes designed and built a more efficient and accessible solar-powered landing zone on the east side at the top of Pajarito Mountain to assist the Pajarito Mountain Ski Patrol in its ambulance transport. An expert level Alpine skier, she has been a certified ski patroller for three years, volunteering more than 300 hours, and this year she received the National Ski Patrol Rocky Mountain Division Young Adult Patroller of the Year Award.

Aulwes’ achievement is no surprise to those who have watched her rise through Los Alamos Public Schools. She served on the Bradbury Science Museum Advisory Board and on the United Way Youth Leadership Board. She was a member of the Hilltalkers speech and debate team, the Robotics Club and the National Honor Society. She was awarded the Rotary Club of Los Alamos Distinguished Student of Service Award and Community Service Award. She also helped her team capture their 7th straight District Championship title as a sprint freestyle swimmer. 

Aulwes is not afraid of hard work. She was a paid summer crew member for the YMCA Youth Conservation Corps which for her embraced her love of the outdoors. She is a student intern in the Applied Engineering Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory where she has worked on the programming of a six-jointed robotic arm.

Aulwes describes her journey to winning the national award and a $20,000 scholarship as follows:

I grew up skiing and have been doing ski patrol work since I was 15. I love adventures and being outside—as did my Girl Scout troop—and I looked up to the strong women on the ski patrol. They inspired me to become a first responder myself.

“Ski patrol focuses on quickly and efficiently moving patients who have injured themselves on the slopes, and I learned that during a rescue, time can really impact patient outcomes. Some spinal injuries, for instance, may lead to paralysis if they’re not treated in time. And in the worst-case scenario, patients can die if they can’t get help quickly.

“So for my Gold Award, I wanted to improve how patients get to the Air EMS. I designed and built a new helicopter pad on the ski hill where I worked in New Mexico so that snowmobiles with toboggans could take patients directly to the designated transportation site. I also improved the lighting around the helipad, designing lights that are easier to see and are able to operate in difficult conditions. My design runs on solar energy and every light can work independently—an improvement over the previous wiring, where one broken light affected the entire system, making it difficult or impossible for aircraft to land if a storm or accident knocked out one or more lights.

“When I was in seventh grade, I joined a FIRST Lego League Robotics team with Girl Scouts, which inspired me to pursue my love of engineering and design and led me to take related classes in high school. And although most of my classmates have been male, my older Girl Scout sisters on the robotics team really helped me see that I wasn’t alone in pursuing a STEM career path. With this in mind, through my project I wanted more girls to see the power of engineering in action so that if they’re interested, they can do something like what I did. And because mentoring young girls is so important to me, I also developed and led an all-girl workshop to encourage more girls to go into engineering-related fields.

“I’m currently at Texas A&M University studying biomedical engineering. My Gold Award helped me not only get into a competitive program at a competitive school, but also earn several local scholarships so that I’m able to focus on my education instead of how to pay for it. It gave me a jumpstart on my career as an engineer. (I’m currently looking into patenting my helipad design!) At 18, I never thought I’d be able to talk about something like this! It has encouraged me to keep on innovating.

“Thing is, that’s what Girl Scouts does. It allows you to take your aspirations off the ground and make them a reality. Through Girl Scouts, I was able to learn about robotics in an environment where I felt safe and validated. It also gave me the opportunity to travel and compete nationally. It helped fund my dreams. And my Gold Award brought me closer to my ski and Girl Scout communities and has helped me give back to those who helped me along the way. I wish every girl could be a Girl Scout so they could find a community that wants them to succeed!”

After donning her Gold Award Thursday in a virtual nationally broadcast ceremony said there are so many people that helped her get there.

“I am so incredibly lucky to have the support of all of you in my life. To my parents, Robert and Sheila McClees, I am incredibly grateful for all the love and support they gave me throughout my project and continue to give me as I move forward towards my future,” she said.

She thanked her Girl Scout leaders Nan Holmes and Ryn Herrmann for keeping Troop 116 together for all these years and the troop for sticking by her and helping her to complete her project, especially her former “Radioactive Fireflies” who helped her find her passion for robotics.

“You have all grown into incredible and supportive young women and I know that you are going to change the world,” Aulwes said.

She thanked the scholarship donors noting that the $20,000 she received has helped her pay her tuition in full.

“I’d also like to thank the Pajarito Mountain Ski Patrol for donating both their time and supplies for our new helicopter pad. I would specifically like to thank Mike O’Neill for all the time and guidance he has given me. I know manual labor is not what everyone wants to do on a Saturday, and I am so grateful for all the guidance that he gave me,” Aulwes said. “I am so incredibly thankful to work with all of the ski patrol.”

She thanked project Y for letting her have a venue for her STEM workshop on the helipad project which was part the Gold Award project.

“Lastly I’d like to thank all the girls that attended my workshop. It warms my heart to be able to see so many girls as passionate about science and engineering as I am. Keep striving for a better future in STEM. I am so excited to be with Girl Scouts as an ambassador and I hope to inspire more girls to continue their paths in both Girl Scouts and STEM,” she said.

The awards ceremony is only the beginning of a year of being an ambassador for Girl Scouts with multiple speaking engagements and activities and Aulwes now has a team to assist her with it all. Today at 2 p.m. she will be featured in the Girl Scouts Change the World virtual celebration ahead of International Day of the Girl along with the other nine awardees as they share their projects. More than 8,000 girls have already registered for the event. Anyone can register for the event at the above link.

While all of this is going on, she is in her freshman year at Texas A&M University’s School of Engineering where she is pursuing a degree in Biomedical Engineering.