The Girl Scouts of Maine Gala, held Dec. 7 at the Portland Westin Harborview, honored Dr. Laura Thompson, a leader in sustainable development who was named the group’s 2018 Woman of Distinction.

“Laura Thompson is a very distinguished scientist in the paper industry and demonstrates many of the attributes we want our girls to aspire to,” said Joanne Crepeau, CEO of Girl Scouts of Maine.

Thompson and 13 other volunteers from Sappi recently mentored two groups of local Girl Scouts, teaching them everything from forest ecology to paper chemistry. Troop 2070 of Gorham and Troop 574 of Westbrook are the first in the nation to earn the new paper scientist patch, which was presented to 15 girls at the gala.

“These outreach acts and hands-on opportunities are so important,” Thompson said. It was because of the Society of Women Engineers recruiting at her high school that Thompson studied chemical engineering at the University of New Hampshire. UNH engineering students went to visit a paper mill in Westbrook, where Thompson was intrigued by the biomass boiler, “the sexiest part of the paper mill,” she said.

During her gala speech, Thompson humorously presented how she used math to convert the power of that biomass boiler into something dear to Girl Scouts: s’mores. The Sappi biomass boiler, Thompson said, has the flame-roasting capacity of 2.71 quadrillion s’mores per year.

“In all seriousness, that trip changed my life,” said Thompson, who is director of sustainable development and policy initiatives at Sappi North America, where 40 percent of senior leaders are female. “It made all the difference to see women in roles like this,” she said.

About 270 people attended the gala, which raised $115,000 to support Girl Scout programs that help nearly 9,000 girls across Maine cultivate their passion in science, technology, outdoors and more, growing leadership skills and building girls with courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer from Scarborough (and a former Girl Scout). She can be reached at:

[email protected]

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