In my junior year of high school, we watched a documentary about how some colleges have covered up sexual assault allegations on their campuses to preserve their reputations. That’s horrible, and what’s worse is that the cover-ups fuel a culture of suppression that normalizes sexual assault.
This issue has been important to me for years. When I was in eighth grade, someone I knew was the victim of a sexual assault crisis. It was a traumatic event for them—and something that is all too common. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, a person in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds. And women ages 16–19 are four times more likely than the general population to experience sexual assault.
Every college and college-bound student wants to go to a school where they feel safe. When my friends and I were considering schools, we tried investigating sexual assault statistics for the schools we were looking at. That data, however, as well as resources on the topic of sexual assault, were nearly impossible to find online. What we were able to find was often buried in hundreds of pages of campus police and fire department call records.
That’s when I knew I had to create a resource for college students to increase their awareness of the reality of sexual assault on campus. So for my Gold Award, I developed the first database in the world documenting sexual assault on college campuses. Project Dandelion provides sexual assault stats associated with every college in Illinois as well as resources offering support. Information is power, and making this information easily accessible can help students better evaluate schools.
With support from my mentor from Metropolitan Family Services of DuPage, I started by researching every college in Illinois, about 170 schools. To complete the research needed for the database, I recruited a team of about 20 high school volunteers; this was the first time I'd ever really led a team. I went into my first meeting terrified, trying to find the words to talk about my project for a few minutes. But I kept at it and it worked out!
Throughout Project Dandelion, I was responsible for organizing, communicating with my team and the media, and managing a whole project. Early on I realized the systems we were using weren’t quite working—so I came with a stronger plan and a completely different approach, and it worked. I think one of the greatest leadership skills I learned from this project was adaptability. Being a leader doesn’t mean never being wrong or never changing your mind—quite the opposite. Sometimes you need to adapt to achieve your goal.
I’m currently in my first year at Purdue University, where I intend to study aerospace engineering. I actually wrote my entrance essay on my Gold Award, and I strongly believe my project strengthened my candidacy. I also received two notable scholarships as a result of my Gold Award project. Both were focused on leadership in my community, so being able to demonstrate my project’s impact made me a very strong candidate.
The Gold Award is about change, of course—but it’s also an exploration of yourself. Personally, I’ve started lots of projects I haven’t finished. My Gold Award was really the first time I’ve seen something major through to the end—and that showed me I’m capable of real progress and change. It also fueled my passion for engineering and problem-solving. All of us have the potential for great things in this world, and I think the Gold Award can help a person uncover that.