Whitefish River’s Sara Gardner is looking forward to participating in simulated astronaut training and other activities at the upcoming Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center Camp in Alabama.

By Rick Garrick

WHITEFISH RIVER FIRST NATION—Whitefish River’s Sara Gardner is looking forward to her upcoming trip to the Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy (HLCA) at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center Camp in the southern state of Alabama.

“I’m excited — everyone is really excited,” says the Grade 12 St. Charles College student. “I’ve always been really interested in science and it’s just been a big part of my life. It started in Grade nine — taking science was mandatory, but it was also really fun and it just really resonated with me. Physics is probably my favourite class.”

Gardner says it was a nerve wracking experience while waiting to find out if she was accepted into the HLCA program or not. She applied for the week-long program in September 2016. The program is available for the children of full-time Honeywell employees, which Gardner’s mother is.

“After a few months I was like: ‘Oh, I didn’t get in’,” Gardner says. “And then we got the [acceptance] e-mail and everyone was ecstatic.”

The program provides students with an opportunity to increase their interest in the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics as well as prepare them for university. Students earn a university credit after completing the program.

“It’s a lot of science-based [learning] and leadership training,” Gardner says. “They have us in groups and we’re building models. I think there is a flight simulator. [There’s] zero gravity stuff, basically like astronaut training. I’m really excited to do everything.”

The program includes 45 hours of classroom, laboratory and field training. Students also participate in simulated astronaut training, which includes a realistic shuttle mission and the opportunity to experience what it’s like to walk on the moon and tumble in a space capsule; stress-inducing and time-sensitive physical challenges; simulated jet-fighter pilot training; and rocket construction.

“I’m hoping that it’s going to give me experience within groups,” Gardner says. “And it’s going to help me with my confidence in groups and help me to be a better leader.”

About 320 students from 45 countries and 27 U.S. states are expected to participate in this year’s program, over two consecutive weeks from Feb. 25-March 10.

“There’s only two Canadians that I know of,” Gardner says about the students participating in the program. “It’s a huge honour.”

Gardner has already been accepted at all of the universities she applied to for her post-secondary studies, including Laurentian University for forensic sciences.

“It’s always been a huge influence on me with the media and especially with all of the Native women that have gone missing,” Gardner says. “Hardly anyone has heard of [the missing women] and they are still being looked for, and I’d love to help with that.”

Lisa Gardner, Sara’s mother and a core administrator with Honeywell in Sudbury, says her daughter has always loved science and puzzles.

“Put them together and forensics just kind of clicked,” Lisa says. “She knew in Grade nine she was going into forensics. She knew that is what she wanted to do, and she knew that she needed to make sure that her math, science, and physics marks were really high. I don’t think she has a grade that’s lower than a 90 in all of high school.”

More than 1,770 students from 53 countries have participated in the HLCA program since it was developed in 2010.