Bellevue teen takes flight at Huntsville Rocket Center with Honeywell academy

It was one small step for womankind, one giant leap for local high-schooler Elinor Doran.

Doran, an Interlake High School junior, was one of five Seattle-area students and just 320 students worldwide to recently travel to the “Rocket City” of Huntsville, Alabama for the Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy.

The teens, juniors and seniors from 45 countries and 27 states, are all the children of Honeywell employees. Honeywell is an international company that produces consumer products, aerospace systems and provides engineering services. The challenge is a week-long educational experience hosted at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville and is meant to encourage interest and career paths in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Doran said the experience was sort of a family tradition.

“My mom works in the Home and Building Technologies division of Honeywell. Last fall, she got an email about the program and encouraged me to apply,” she said. “My older brother, Alex, attended the same program when he was in junior high school back in 2013. I was in eighth grade when he went, so I knew I’d have to wait a few years before I would have the chance to go myself.”

Ashley Fitzpatrick, a student from New Mexico who attended the Academy in 2016 and returned this year as a student ambassador, said the week-long experience was a great learning experience.

“We build and launch model rockets and learn that there are so many different types of engineering fields to pursue,” she said. “It’s a growing field with a high demand for men and women. That really opened my eyes. What’s really great is that the program combines science and engineering with friendship and fun.”

Doran said that the students did both fun and high-pressure challenges.

“The focus was to build leadership skills through various challenges and activities, such as an International Space Station mission, an incident command Simulation, a high ropes course, model rocket building and an aviation challenge,” she said.

Other local students involved include Angelus McNally of Redmond, Evan Wells of Lake Stevens and Samuel Young of Sammamish.

Young, a 16-year-old from Skyline High School, said an exciting part of the week was the team building projects. The groups were given three main missions at the end of the week, one of which was a space mission. Young’s group was put into three teams, including the International Space Station crew, which executed chemistry experiments and conducted an Extravehicular Activity (EVA).

“I was lucky enough to be one of the two people on the EVA team, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. My partner and I were put in mock spacesuits and hoisted from the ground to a horizontal hanging position,” said Young. From there, the two had to use teamwork and communication to effectively replace damaged pieces.

Being one of six girls out of 30 students in her computer science class, McNally said “it was incredibly encouraging and empowering to see a STEM-focused group of people with equal gender balance … this was teamwork as it was meant to be — a clean slate and balanced playing field from the start.”

Since its launch in 2010, the Honeywell challenge academy, in partnership with the Rocket Center, has awarded 2,093 scholarships to students of Honeywell employees. Financial contributions from Honeywell and its employees fund the scholarships, which cover the cost of tuition, meals, accommodations and program materials.

“The act of bringing this global Honeywell community together with Space Camp allows these students to plan for a future of improving life on our planet and beyond,” said Dr. Deborah Barnhart, CEO and executive director of the U.S. Space and Rocketry Center. “They bring the best of their diverse cultures to Space Camp, where they will use teamwork and technology to prepare them for a future they have yet to imagine.”

As for Doran, she’s not sure exactly what’s next for her, but appreciated the experience and knowledge the week gave her.

“Pursuing a STEM career in the future is definitely a possibility for me, but I haven’t made any decisions yet,” she said. “As I approach my senior year, I’m trying to figure out what exactly I want to do and where I want to go to college — but it’s understandably a difficult choice to make. Luckily, I have a bit more time before I really have to decide.”

Reporter intern Jaime Cao contributed to this report.

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