Students from all around the world – including Prathmesh Bhatt of Beaumont – got to spend a week at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, as a part of the Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy (HLCA).
Prathmesh is a West Brook High School student, whose excellent academic record and superb performance during HLCA’s application process earned him a spot at the prestigious camp, where alumni like NASA astronaut Kate Rubins took their first steps toward the giant leap into space and the great unknown.
“Luckily, my dad was working at Honeywell, and I got this opportunity,” Prathmesh explained. “There were like 1,000 applicants. Out of that only about 300 got selected. We had to write 3-4 essays on STEM, and our future plans. We had to give them our grades. So, taking all that into consideration, they gave me a chance to go to Alabama.
“It was top-notch competition.”
Overall, Honeywell brought a total of 296 students from 45 countries and 29 U.S. states and territories, all children of Honeywell employees, to take part in the 10th annual HCLA, two week-long programs held February 23-27 and March 1-5 meant to encourage high school students ages 16 through 18 to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers through real-world, hands-on activities in coding, computer science and astronautics.
Since the program was founded in 2010, Honeywell has sponsored nearly 3,000 students to attend space camp, the company reports. Honeywell and its employees help fund the scholarships, which cover the cost of tuition, meals, accommodations and program materials. Participants develop STEM leadership skills through numerous team-building challenges such as building, coding and testing rockets; simulated astronaut training; shuttle missions; and a low-gravity moonwalk. Students also use computational thinking and computer science to deepen their digital skills.
According to Prathmesh, the training missions posed fun and exciting scenarios for the students to work through using STEM and related skills.
“Every day, we would have two or three activities,” he shared. “One of them was the aviation challenge in which we had to fly an F-15, which is a jet plane – F-15s or F-18 Hornets. It was a simulator, but the entire cockpit was exactly like a real cockpit. That was pretty amazing because we got hands-on experience with a plane. If we could pilot them in the future, that would be great.”
During a command exercise, Prathmesh and team were faced with an all-too-familiar scenario for Southeast Texans: a flash flood.
“We got a hypothetical situation that Alabama was flooding,” described Prathmesh. “We had to plan with our team along with other teams in order to provide supplies and save lives.
“That was good for building communication skills.”
Prathmesh flourished when tasked with a leadership role during his favorite activity: a simulated space mission.
“Then, we had a space mission, which was personally the best for me. It was a hypothetical simulator in which we had to launch a rocket into space and pick up astronauts from the International Space Station (ISS) and bring them back to Earth,” said Prathmesh. “Everything was done in a simulator. I got to be the flight director, which is the main head of it. It was really exciting because we had to communicate rapidly.”
Though the participating students hailed from countries spanning the globe, Prathmesh said they were able to adapt quickly to any language barriers, allowing teams to coordinate to achieve their mission goals. The experience was enlightening, Prathmesh described.
“There were people from so many different countries. There were people from Belgium, the U.K., with similar interests in Aerospace Engineering,” he explained. “Our communications skills improved rapidly because we got to communicate with so many different people from places like France. It was pretty fun. Having similar interests with people you’ve never met or seen before, it’s pretty shocking.”
Mike Bennett, Honeywell vice president of communications, said his company has been sponsoring students like Prathmesh for the last decade because Honeywell values the skills bolstered by the space camp and the education of the future workforce.
“For 10 years, Honeywell has sponsored students from around the world to travel to space camp and participate in real-world STEM experiences, helping to build their technical, collaborative and communication skills,” he said. “Today, the 30 fastest-growing occupations globally are in STEM, so Honeywell is proud to partner with the USSRC to empower the next generation of innovators and leaders.”
USSRC CEO Louie Ramirez said space camp students are gaining even more than knowledge during the program. They are also meeting other future leaders who they may find themselves collaborating with on projects still yet to be conceived.
“We welcome the Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center each year, with hundreds of diverse students joining us at space camp to share in our love of space, science, technology and more,” said Ramirez. “Through the immersive program, students learn skills and form relationships that will serve them in their lives ahead as they tackle new and unique challenges.”
Prathmesh’s future is wide open, and he is still choosing from diverse career paths where he will certainly benefit from the skills he developed through his recent experience at Space Camp.
“In my distant future, I’m probably going to go for Aerospace Engineering at the University of Texas Dallas,” he said, quickly adding, “or Computer Science. I wish to work at Space X or NASA, or even going into a field such as investment banking. It’s a wide range.”
Whatever career he chooses, he has some large footsteps to follow. Previously-mentioned USSRC alumna and NASA astronaut Rubins has conducted two spacewalks and was the first person to sequence DNA in space. Then, there’s Bethan Jane Murray, an alumna of the inaugural HLCA now working in engineering and industrial design with McKinsey & Company. Murray said the leadership program taught her valuable lessons she has carried with her throughout her life into success.
“Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy completely changed my priorities and gave me tangible things to work on to ensure I could become the best version of myself. I went home inspired and excited,” said Murray. “If it had not been for Space Camp, I would not be where I am today.”
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Honeywell, as well as the Space Camp in Alabama for giving me this opportunity. It can help build a lot of young leaders in the future who will bring their own innovation going forward,” Prathmesh concluded. “I would also like to thank West Brook High School for their continuous support that allowed me to achieve this goal. Thank you!”
For more information about the camp, contact Marti Skold-Jordan (Honeywell), firstname.lastname@example.org, and Pat Ammons (USSRC), email@example.com.