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Shelby teens have an out-of-this-world opportunity

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By Sherry Hendricks

A science-minded brother and sister from Shelbyville now know what it’s like to fly a space shuttle, pilot a jet fighter, the feeling of being weightless and even dealing with a tornado.

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Well, sort of.

Marina and Samuel White experienced all that and more during a week at the Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy (HLCA), a partnership venture with the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The children of Jwain and Kristen White, they got to dabble in many facets of their love for science and expand their knowledge of many topics after winning a scholarship from Honeywell that paid their expenses.

“The kids that attend the Honeywell camp get to experience all of that plus more,” Kristen White says. “There are labs and classroom workshops, lectures by Honeywell presenters and astronauts.”
And that played right into the loves of the kids and inspired them to pursue the scholarships, which since 2010, Honeywell has made available to the children of its fulltime employees – Jwain White works for Honeywell out of his home in Shelbyville – which pays their way to a version of what most of us call “space camp.”

“I wrote about how my grandparents inspired my love of animals during my visits with them on their farm,” Samuel White says of his application essay. “That is what spurred my love of biology and is one reason why I wanted to attend the camp.”  

He is a freshman at Christian Academy of Louisville, and he professes a keen interest in biology. He says the camp helped him build on that interest for his career plans.

For instance, he got the chance to experiment in a DNA lab at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Alabama, where he had hands-on experience at extracting the DNA from the cells of common foods.

He says this strengthened his love of biology even more and that he would like to be a biology professor, but, his love of sciences could lead him into some form of engineering.

Samuel says he also was impressed by a lecture from one of NASA’s astronauts who encouraged the students to “take the initiative to succeed,” to “ask” for what they want in order to make it happen.

Marina, a sophomore at Collins who her mother says loves math and sciences, says she enjoyed broader experiences. “I enjoyed the inter-cultural experience with the students from other countries and getting to work with the people in my group with leadership activities,” he says. “I was surprised that many of the cultures were closer to our American culture than I expected.”

Her leadership and skill proved valuable when her assignment in a simulated space shuttle mission as the Capcom (the captain of communications on the ground) helped her to successfully guide the “astronauts” safely through their mission.  

Marina and Samuel had various skilled and critical thinking experiences.  They got to use the actual simulators used for training military pilots.  

When their teams underwent a simulated threat to our national security, Samuel was one of the pilots of fighter jets assigned to protect the president from being shot down in Air Force 1. And Marina had the responsibility of taking out other enemy aircraft that had varying targets on the ground.  

Marina was cheered on by her team as she became the only pilot that did not crash during the mission.  “We only had 30 minutes of training before we were assigned our mission,” she says as she laughed at the thought that as the only surviving pilot, the very existence of the United States rested on her shoulders.

Coincidentally, the Whites experienced a mock tornado disaster as one of their simulated drills.

“We had a real tornado warning earlier that week, so when the mock drill started, I wasn’t sure if it was real or not,” Samuel White says.

His assigned position was on the medical team, which setup triage for the “casualties” and got the “wounded” into ambulances.

Marina was the deputy incident commander.

“I was responsible of directing the best use of resources in order to save the lives of the most amount of people,” she says.

Her decision-making skills must have been impressive because at the end of camp she was awarded the Critical Thinking Award at her graduation.
Kristen White says there are different kinds of camps at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center throughout the year.  Some are programs for families, others are for school groups or individuals, some highlight aviation, others focus on technology and so on.  

“The Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy is another example of corporate commitment to prepare the next generation of engineers, scientists and explorers,” said Deborah Barnhart, executive director and CEO of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. “The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is proud to work with Honeywell on this project, and we are honored to teach and share with the young people entrusted to us.”

The Whites have lived 16 years in Shelbyville after stops in Frankfort and Evansville. They have four children – Ruth is an eighth-grader at Collins and Anneli is a third-grader at CAL – whom Kristen White home-schooled in their early years.

“I am proud of all my children,” she says.

And in a way, sort of, a couple of them have been out of this world.