A golden opportunity

Jamielee Buenemann (left) is recognized by Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA, at the National Young Women of Distinction event in New York.

Jamielee Buenemann (left) is recognized by Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA, at the National Young Women of Distinction event in New York.

Growing up in rural Missouri, Jamielee Buenemann learned firsthand that many small-town residents are wary of renewable energy.

“People think it is either too expensive or too complex,” she says.

As a high school junior, Buenemann set a goal to demystify renewable energy and make it a reality for the average citizen. She also made this project the focus of her Girl Scout Gold Award.

The Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouting, challenges young women to change the world. When they’re done, they tell their story and share their results.

“You have a lot of potential to make an impact if you are willing to put in the dedication and learn some new tasks,” she says.

Buenemann, a freshman in engineering, built a residential-scale wind turbine – almost entirely out of recycled materials from her home – to promote new sources of energy. And her work earned her national acclaim.

This past August, Buenemann was named one of 10 National Young Women of Distinction, Girl Scout’s highest honor. Winning projects demonstrated extraordinary leadership and had measurable impact.

“At such a young age, these girls are creating positive change in their communities, identifying local solutions that relate to global issues and taking sustainable action to make a difference in the world,” says Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA. “We are proud to recognize the contributions and achievements of these exceptional girls and cannot wait to see how they continue to inspire, influence, and innovate as the leaders and social entrepreneurs of tomorrow.”

Buenemann shows off her residential-scale wind turbine to fellow Girl Scouts.

Buenemann shows off her residential-scale wind turbine to fellow Girl Scouts.

In building her wind turbine, Buenemann hoped to show that renewable energy can be inexpensive as well as developed without a lot of complex machinery. She used reclaimed materials like Plexiglas and PVC pipe.

“Using repurposed materials not only reduces the cost, it also encourages recycling,” she says.

Buenemann set up the wind turbine in her back yard and measured energy output using different types of materials for the blades – aluminum sheeting, PVC pipe and Plexiglas. She found that each material had its advantages.

“I tried Plexiglas because it can be commonly found in scrap materials, but it also is extremely light,” Buenemann says. “That makes it great for low-wind areas, like Missouri. Plexiglas blades start turning at a much lower wind speed and continue turning after the wind dies down. It wasn’t as durable, though.

“The aluminum blades were least efficient, probably due to the larger mass of the blades,” she says. “They had a high durability, though, and would be great in an area with a lot of strong conflicting winds.”

Buenemann tested three different types of material, and decided to build her wind turbine out of PVC because it was both lightweight and durable.

Buenemann tested three different types of material, and decided to build her wind turbine out of PVC because it was both lightweight and durable.

PVC pipe worked the best. She says it was still lightweight yet durable enough to withstand higher wind speeds without degrading.

“The PVC pipe blades were the easiest to make,” Buenemann says. “You already have the round shape for the blades – and they worked very well over a wide range of conditions. They’re lighter than the aluminum blades, but they have higher durability.”

Buenemann completed the project at the start of her senior year in high school and gave presentations to other Girl Scouts and to the fourth grade classes in her hometown of Washington, Missouri.

Buenemann learned she would receive national Girl Scout honors when she was at the National Youth Science Camp, a month-long science education program that combines academic challenges and hands-on science projects with outdoor adventure. Two students from each state are chosen to attend.

“I love exploration,” Buenemann says. “Science is a great area that can have a huge impact on our world. It made for one amazing summer.”

Story by Mary Helen Stoltz
Photos contributed by Girl Scouts of the USA


  1. I understand that the title of this article is supposed to be a “cute” reference to the fact that Girl Scouts sell cookies, and I honestly found nothing within the article to be objectionable.

    That being said, I believe the headline itself is incredibly sexist. It sounds condescending and diminutive towards the young woman who is being celebrate within this article. I also think it reduces the Girl Scouts of the USA to a group that is only important because they sell cookies to the public. Being a Girl Scout, especially at this high a level, is a mark of dedication and hard work, and I strongly believe that the title of this article completely undermines the hard work that Ms. Buenemann did to earn her Gold Award.

    • mm Mary Helen Stoltz says

      Rachel, Thanks for sharing your concerns. The headline was intended as a clever way of saying that Girl Scouts are so much more than cookies, but I seem to have missed that mark. I’m a Girl Scout myself — and a Girl Scout leader — and don’t want to do anything to marginalize the scouting experience. We will change the headline.

      • Really? One person decides to take offense at the title of an article you wrote with good intentions and you immediately jump to change it? Well here’s an idea, the “golden opportunity” phrase is defined in The Free Dictionary as “an excellent opportunity that is not likely to be repeated.” I’m offended that you would think this kind of success isn’t likely to be repeated. What a downer. But, don’t change it for me; I’m just making a point that when only one person decides they want to be offended at the choice of words selected by the writer, explain why you chose that title; but be strong enough and confident enough in your decision to not be swayed.

        • I also thought the title was a bit of bad taste, if not incredibly sexist. I do see where Rachel comes from. I don’t like to see young women’s accomplishments diminished to something cute. I get the pun, but the term “smart cookie” as itself has a childish, condescending tone.
          By the way, I’d also like to point out that on the mst.edu homepage, the title still shows as “One smart cookie.”

  2. I agree with Jan to a point, and disagree with everyone else. This sensitivity issue is being taken way too far. If the writer of the article had no intention of insulting Miss then she should stand by her original title. The article certainly wasn’t sexist, let alone “incredibly sexist”, so why interpret the title as such? To Jan’s other point, the fact that she looked up the definition of “golden opportunity” in the dictionary is really telling of what is wrong with our culture at large. Why do we go around picking each others words apart until we find something that doesn’t quite suit our own personal tastes in order to control and censor? This attitude of censoring every little thing that might be offensive to someone is dangerous. As an active duty member of the Army, I stand by the right to free speech. However, in light of what is going on in our country and world right now I hope we can be more judicious concerning what we choose to express our disapproval over.

  3. Mary Helen Stoltz and Jamielee Buenemann, Thank you for a WONDERFUL article! My grade school age son and I were reading the National Geographic Issue on climate change and I got this article out to show him a close-to-home example of innovation. He was so excited and started telling me about all the things he was going to build – which he loves doing all the time, anyway. And you know what? My son is one smart cookie! 😉 You go girls! … I consistently love the articles on this page that show achievements and innovation by the students at our fabulous university.

  4. Thank you Jamielee Buenemann and Mary Helon Stoltz for sharing such important and inspiring information. I am also a former Girls Scout and may go back and mentor other Girls Scouts with an engineering background. I have done that for other young girls interested in STEM programs.

    Jamielee – stay true to your art, passions and dreams and don’t let the small stuff get in the way of reaching your goals. I appreciate your continued work in making a positive difference in changing your community and the world around you. By the way, I always buy cookies from several girl scouts in the area. My Mom was a girl scout leader and passed it on to me.