Laguna Beach teen blazes trail for female eagle scouts

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Ani Hovanesian, 14, of Troop 35 aims to be one of the first female Eagle Scouts from Laguna Beach. Courtesy of Tanya Hovanesian

Ani Hovanesian hopes to become one of the first female Eagle Scouts from Laguna Beach since Scouts BSA started accepting girls last year.

The Laguna Beach High sophomore is looking to follow in the footsteps of her older brother Joseph, who was honored last year with the Eagle Scout Project of the Year award by the Orange County Council of the Boy Scouts for creating a sewing program for a nonprofit youth shelter in Armenia.

“This was a dream I had had since I was five,” Ani said. “I was in Girl Scouts but it wasn’t the same. We didn’t camp. It was a lot less intense. We didn’t go on these amazing adventures.”

Scouting isn’t the only interest Ani inherited from her older brother. He also helped instill in her a love for space and engineering, she said. Three years ago, the Hovanesian family visited the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Ani has been preoccupied with interstellar pursuits ever since, making similar pilgrimages to Houston Space Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. During these visits, she was introduced to the many unsolved questions of how people might live in space.

Recently, Ani was fortunate enough to attend NASA’s space camp in Huntsville, Ala., home of the Saturn 5 rocket.

“It was incredible to be on site where history was created and to learn from challenging projects all related to my love of science,” Ani said in a prepared statement. “I wanted to share this experience in some way with kids in Laguna who can’t go to space camp.”

While dreaming up an Eagle Scout project, the 14-year-old realized she wanted to use the lessons she learned at space camp to spark children’s curiosity in science, technology, engineering, and math. Ani approached the Boys & Girls Club Laguna Beach to coordinate a Space Camp pilot program for its members.

“Ani’s Space Camp was the timely and a perfect gift to our Club members at the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach,” Boys & Girls Club CEO Pam Estes said in a prepared statement. “Creating excitement about science and engineering among our kiddos, equipping them with problem-solving skills, and modeling volunteerism are important priorities.”

She first led her fellow Scouts from Troop 35 in practicing the lesson plans and assembling material kits for the students. Over the last week in July, the Scouts under Ani’s leadership did a trial run of four days of camp for Cub Scouts, who are of similar age to the intended participants at the Boys & Girls Club.

All four classes held in early August were conducted in-person but socially distanced outdoors at local parks with no more than 10 participants, who wore masks and were provided hand sanitizer. Each of the four classes had three activities, like the design and building of rockets powered by air or Alka-Seltzer, designing zero-gravity astronaut living quarters, and creating racing simulated Mars rovers. One experiment involved constructing heat shields of different materials, like aluminum foil and copper mesh. Each design was tested under adult supervision with a blow torch to see how long the marshmallow “astronauts” could survive.

All activities were developed by Ani’s experiences at Space Camp and from ideas on JPL’s website.

Boys & Girls Club members launch stomp rockets at Alta Laguna Park as part of a space camp coordinated in August by scout Ani Hovanesian. Courtesy of Tanya Hovanesian

Although she went into the classes with low expectations for student engagement, Ani was pleasantly surprised by their enthusiasm to learn.

“I was completely blown away by these amazing kids,” she said.

To obtain the title of Eagle Scout, candidates must appear before a board of review after turning 18 years to determine if they’ve met the qualifications, according to scouting.org.

As a pioneer female scout, Ani said joining the organization has been an amazing experience and hope more girls will follow in her footsteps.

“I’d recommend it to any little girl who wants to be a leader and make a change,” she said. “Trust your gut and just have as much fun as you can along the way.”

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