Program provides leadership experience, team building

Jordan McEntee, Sports Editor

She wears a bright orange space suit and looks around at the hundreds of buttons and switches.
One reads F18 and another R6. She refers to her operation manual to determine which control she must adjust to land the flight simulator safely.
Over spring break, junior Gaby Lobo spent six days at the Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Lobo heard about the program from her father, who works for Honeywell. She filled out an application form, received a scholarship and just had to pay for an airplane ticket.
Lobo said her enthusiasm for math and science led her to attend the camp.
“I’m really interested in engineering,” she said. “I had also seen pictures in the brochure of kids in these cool space suits, and I just thought it looked like a lot of fun.”
Because of her unfamiliarity with her surroundings, Lobo said she was somewhat nervous about the trip.
“I didn’t know anyone going,” she said. “I was kind of scared to ride on the plane by myself, but once I got there, I got really close with everybody. In my group of 16, there were kids from eight different countries. At the whole camp, there were kids from more than 30 different countries. It was awesome to be surrounded by so many other people who were interested in engineering and math.”
Lobo said her experience included a traditional space camp with flight simulations, but it also included leadership building, guest speakers and lessons on public speaking and debating.
Lobo piloted her shuttle during a simulation. Her group got a 98 percent on their mission. Simulations were graded upon the group’s professional attitude, communication skills and ability to execute instructions under hazardous external conditions, such as mock tornadoes, fuel complications or overcast weather.
“It was actually a lot more challenging than it looked,” she said. “There were all these buttons around me and a bunch of different switches up on the top. You had to know what all of them did, and it was really stressful.”
Olathe East senior Joshua Benton was part of Lobo’s group. He said he enjoyed the high tech flight simulations.
“They were ridiculously realistic,” Benton said. “They would put you in a little pod that was like an exact replica of an actual cockpit.”
Throughout the week, Lobo and her teammates completed flight simulations for both fighter jets and space shuttles.
“In one of the missions, we had to pretend like we were trying to save the President of the United States,” she said. “It was really intense at the time.”
One day at camp, the students visited the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology at the University of Alabama.
“While we were there, we got to extract DNA from things and do a mock analysis of the DNA,” she said.
During the week, Lobo was awarded the “Inspiration” award for being a positive leader and motivating her team. For receiving this award, she was given a solar-powered backpack.
“Yeah, it’s kind of nerdy, but it’s cool,” she said. “It has a solar-power battery charger in the zipper pocket, and I can use it to charge my phone. It was pretty helpful at camp because there were 60 girls staying in the same area and only 10 outlets, so I was able to charge my phone in my backpack wherever we went.”
Lobo said all the campers had formed a strong bond by the end of the week and still keep in touch today.
“We still talk on Facebook all the time,” she said. “We were all crying at the end because none of us wanted to go home.”
Benton said going to the camp pushed him to be a part of opportunities outside of his comfort zone.
“It was such an awesome experience,” he said. “I did things I never thought I’d do, and I met so many new people. Just our group one person from Russia, one from Spain, one from Romania, several from the different coasts of the United States, and a bunch of other places. We definitely had a good mix.”
After coming home from camp, Lobo said the skills she learned have helped her in her classes.
“It has definitely helped my leadership skills,” she said. “I’m more confident speaking out in class and debating effectively. I learned how to be a better communicator in all different settings.”
Overall, Lobo said the experience was very valuable — more rewarding than she predicted.
“It wasn’t just a huge nerd fest,” she said. “That’s what everybody keeps asking me. But it was honestly the best week of my life. I know it sounds cheesy, but I feel like I know myself better after going. I just learned how to be a leader in science, in math, but also just in life.”