Eleven high school students from the North and West suburbs were among 227 students from 30 countries to participate recently in the weeklong Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.
The program, which accepts applications from children of Honeywell employees, is designed to build leadership skills and to inspire the next generation of students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
The students met scientists, engineers and former astronauts. They engaged in interactive challenges such as designing, building and testing their own rockets; participating in simulated astronaut training, shuttle missions and a moon walk; and conducting DNA extraction experiments on fruit.
The students included Patrick Grady, Mundelein High School; Parnita Harsh, Neuqua Valley High School, Naperville; Dan McGarry of Streamwood, Saint Viator High School, Arlington Heights; Rohan Shah, Waubonsie Valley High School, Aurora; Rachel Smith, Downers Grove South High School; Skyler Streff, Glenbrook South High School, Glenview; Stephanie Lee of Schaumburg, James B. Conant High School, Hoffman Estates; Charles Sinkler, Maine West High School, Des Plaines; Ronnie Stallworth, of Lake in the Hills, Huntley High School; Andy Yates of South Barrington, Barrington High School; and Marina Yu, Naperville North High School.
Several of the students answered questions about their experiences by email. Here's an edited version of some of their answers:
• Parnita Harsh, 16, Naperville:
The most valuable thing I learned was to be more bold. I ziplined 50 feet up and went on the "space shot" despite having a fear of heights. I had to become more aggressive than usual when dealing with anomalies while being the orbital commander on our simulated mission, and I had to conquer additional paranoia when 2.8 and 3.2 Gs were put on me in the G-force ride and centrifuge respectively. I had to relax and go with it, even if it seemed scary. Just close your eyes, exhale, and jump right in to what seems scary, and you'll never regret taking the leap.
• Skyler Streff, 16, Glenview:
We worked in teams of about 15 kids from all around the world, and I learned how important communication and being sensitive to different cultures and attitudes really is when working together. Sometimes it was hard to balance wanting to pursue my ideas with the thoughts of my teammates.
• Rohan Shah, 16, Aurora:
The most valuable thing HLCA has taught me was that a setback is only a setup for a comeback. meaning that no matter what may come in your way, there is always a window of opportunity that you must take at all costs. … My favorite experience was meeting so many people from around the world. Thanks to HLCA, I have a friend on every continent except Antarctica. This program has solidified my desire to major as an aeronautical engineer in college.
• Daniel McGarry, 18, of Streamwood:
The most significant experience … was the opportunity to work with students from around the world. One of the key components of leadership is communication, and sometimes communication can become difficult when English is not the primary language of some of the group members. Nevertheless, we broke those language barriers as the week progressed, and soon we were able to share culture with one another. I cannot recall how many conversations my group had over cultural foods alone! From them, I learned how similar we are despite the language we speak or the culture we share. The culmination of the lessons and challenges we had was our space mission. Each person had an assignment either in mission control, the International Space Station, or the shuttle (my role was the commander of the space shuttle). Together, our team took off, faced many anomalies in the ship, held experiments, "walked" in space, and landed. Our success in the mission was not due to any one individual, but our work as a team. It is my hope that in the years to come, I will be able to strengthen those bonds I made, and thus bring our world together one person at a time.
• Marina Yu, 16, of Naperville:
One of the greatest aspects about this program is that it is an international event. Students from around the world come to Huntsville, Ala., not knowing what to expect, and are all completely blown away. Meeting all of the incredible people that were a part of the program was so exciting and also very humbling. I really loved learning about the different cultures that were present. We all had such different backgrounds, but it was amazing how similar we were. We were all there for the same reason: to challenge ourselves to be innovative thinkers, avid learners, and stronger leaders. Put the best of the best together under one roof, and you get something special.
• Rachel Smith, 17, Downers Grove
I think the most important thing I learned at camp is the incredible importance of working together with all different kinds of people, and listening to everyone's ideas. Every single person at the Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy came from a unique place and each one brought a different background with different experiences. It quickly became clear that we were most successful when everyone contributed and new perspectives were presented that made us really analyze what we were doing, and why. Because it was clear to see that we were a diverse group, it was fairly easy to see the importance of listening to and understanding each other, but I realized that this applies no matter where you are. Often times we think that people we grew up with or people that we work with in our area should agree with us and have the same opinions because we come from the same background, but the reality is that's not true. I learned that it's crucial to let every voice be heard because, whether they appear to be or not, no two people are the same and everyone has something unique and valuable to bring to the table.