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ONU Girl Scout Receives More Than Merit Badges for Community Service


Camp-outs and selling cookies are activities most Girl Scouts do, but Elizabeth Okrutny has added catching criminals to her Girl Scout endeavors. The sophomore forensic biology major from Tipp City, Ohio, was named 2007 National Young Woman of Distinction by the Girl Scouts of the USA for her efforts with the Tipp City Police Department.

Okrutny initially concentrated on regulating in-cruiser temperatures for state park canines, but realized a greater need existed in her hometown police department. Tipp City needed a sketch artist so Okrutny set about to implement facial composite software that would satisfy the department's need and fit its budget.

"Sketch artists are expensive, but they're extremely helpful. My goal was to find software that was efficient and user-friendly," she says. "My supervisors, Sergeant Eric Burris and retired officer Ron Ray, helped me find the program that would best fit the needs of the department. After implementation, I created tutorials and help-sheets to train the officers."

Okrutny's project was aptly titled "A Thousand Words," a play on the notion that a picture is worth a thousand words. She says, "When trying to arrest a suspect, written descriptions are useful to a point; however, people respond better to images. There is a greater chance of catching the subject, and doing it more quickly than by written description alone."

Okrutny's local council nominated her for the prestigious award. A national committee selected the winning 12 projects, including hers. "I didn't think I would win," Okrutny remarks. "I was up against some amazing projects. One girl constructed artificial reefs, and others worked internationally. I was so surprised to be chosen."

In June, Okrutny and the other recipients were honored at a special ceremony in Washington, D.C. "Not only did we tour the city, we also learned about advocacy and public speaking. We put our advocacy skills to use when we visited Congress to lobby for current issues."

Ultimately, Okrutny's project reflects her interest in forensic biology. She hopes to translate her interests into a career in facial reconstruction and age progression. "What is so wonderful about this technology," says Okrutny, "is that it has the power to locate missing people, or at least give their loved ones a sense of closure."

After 15 years as a Girl Scout, Okrutny has learned how to balance school and her activities. At Northern she is a sister of Alpha Xi Delta, as well as a member of the fencing club and Asian-American Student Union.

"Sometimes it is difficult to balance everything," she remarks. "It's hard work, but in the end it's worth it."

Written by: Autumn Steiner '09
Professional writing major
Bluffton, OH