“I shook hands with the man who symbolically ended the Cold War. It can’t get better than that,” recalled Swadhin Routray, a student of Arihant Arts, Commerce and Science Junior College.
He was talking about NASA Astronaut Robert L Gibson, who he met when he was part of a delegation of seven students from Pune which joined 320 students from 45 countries for a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience at the Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy (HLCA), held recently at the US Space and Rocket Center (USSRC) in Huntsville, Alabama.
Meeting space scientists and going into research stations, HLCA gives students the chance to engage in real-world challenges around STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects at the USSRC.
In March 2017, 17 students from Delhi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Pune, got the opportunity to go on this trip.
A five-day programme that included hands-on activities such as building and testing rockets, simulated astronaut training, shuttle missions and moon walks, the seven participants from Pune also met scientists, engineers and former astronauts.
Ansh Bhagania from City International School said, “Launching model rockets and flying a fighter jet on a simulator was terrific. I never thought I could do that too. The more interesting part was to meet students my age from different parts of the world. We are all great friends now. What could be better than this?”
All the activities were performed in groups of 16, and not more than three people could be from the same country in a group. “There was great cultural exchange. We understood that, despite the boundaries, all students around the world are very similar,” recalled Routray. And some facts came to the fore. Said Priyanka Patil, student of N M V Girls High School, “We also understood where we stand globally.”
While the first two days of the programme were dedicated to introducing all the students with one another, in the following days, they were engaged in activities that involved programming, applying theoretical knowledge and explaining its practical application, which earned their group points. Vedant Deshmukh, another student of Arihant College, was awarded the Critical Thinking Award.
How did the students become a part of this programme?
“We had to write three essays and send it along with a list of our achievements. The essays were mainly about our purpose and future plans,” explained Deshmukh.
The other students from Pune were Palash Chadha (City International School), Parth Samant (Ashok Vidyalaya, Sadashiv Peth), and Neeta Victor (Hutchings High School & Junior College).