CCA student reaching for the stars.
NORTH LIBERTY–Grace Stewart, student at Clear Creek Amana (CCA) Middle School, wants to be an aerospace engineer.
And given her drive and focus, one small step for this girl could certainly turn into a giant leap for mankind.
Grace was awarded a full scholarship to attend Space Camp® at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The camp, a six-day experience full of astronaut training simulations, leadership and team-building projects, real-world applications of math, science and technology, experiment challenges and rocket construction, is based on NASA’s astronaut training program.
“This process attracts bright, motivated students from across the world,” said Dr. Deborah Barnhart, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of center. “To win a scholarship, a student must submit a truly outstanding application. I congratulate Grace on earning a place in the 2014 scholarship class.”
It is indeed a highly competitive process to be selected for the academic scholarship; only 30 percent of those applying receive one. Hopefuls must submit a detailed application that includes the idea and implementation scheme for a science experiment, an essay, and three letters of recommendation. In addition, each applicant must design a mission patch that represents him or herself.
“I did a solar system. I was the sun, and the planets orbiting around me represented different parts of my life, like my saxophone, a basketball, a volleyball, and one that represented my family,” said Grace.
Grace’s design indicates the well-rounded individual that she is. Before the age of 10, she had set her future career sights on being an architect. However, a unit on space in school changed that.
“I started reading books about space, and it intrigued me. I like to build and design things,” said Grace. Her new goal became aerospace engineering, and the opportunity to attend the space academy was right on course.
“I want to be an aerospace engineer, so I figured I could go to this camp and learn more stuff that I can use in the future,” said Grace.
The academy offers exactly that; functional learning that gives future engineers, astronauts and scientists a real glimpse into potential careers.
For example, campers participated in simulated space mission in life-size settings.
“They had a giant room of fake space shuttles or part of the space station you could go and work in. They would brief us for our mission, and then we would be assigned jobs. The first was a lunar mission and we had to exchange crews. We put on replicas of space suits and went outside to change oxygen and nitrogen tanks, and removed a flash drive from a Rover and upload it so the other two people on our team could go outside and fix a window,” said Grace. A second, similar mission set in space, assigned Grace to be flight dynamics officer.
“I was in mission control, monitoring all the flight operations and boosters, and tell CapCom what they needed to do and advise the flight director about what was happening with the shuttle,” Grace explained. In another activity, she and a team worked to design a successful lunar base using token capital.
Model rockets were built and launched, SCUBA tanks were utilized and team leadership competitions were undertaken with intensity. Grace’s team came in first in the Space Bowl at the culmination of the camp, a Jeopardy-like trivia game testing all the participants on what they learned during the week.
“I learned how to work in a team,” said Grace. “I’ve struggled with that, but it’s gotten easier now that I learned how to communicate better and make friends with new people. I learned how to take charge, and be willing to learn to take on the world.”
With true aptitude and intentions to take as much calculus, advanced math, science and aerodynamics classes as possible in school, Grace has already mapped out a path for her own success. Grace’s mother, Rachelle, describes Grace as a walking encyclopedia.
“We are very excited about the Kirkwood STEM going in at Oakdale,” said Rachelle, referring to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics regional education hub, a $30 million collaboration between Kirkwood Community College, Grant Wood Area Education Agency and the University of Iowa, expected to open in the University of Iowa’s research park in Coralville. “Even before she started school, Grace just took off with reading. She loves to learn. She is always telling me a hundred things I didn’t know before.”
Ultimately, Grace said she hopes to work for NASA or a company that designs systems for NASA, to build things like a space shuttle or the space launch system. However, when asked if she herself is anxious to visit space, her answer is an unequivocal, instantaneous “No.”
“I never, ever want to set foot in space. I have read about every single danger of space, and if one little thing goes wrong, the whole thing is catastrophe,” said Grace. She would rather keep both feet on terra firma and rely on her intellect instead. “I am going to try to design things to be the best, so people like my friend Sarah, who wants to be the first person on Mars, can fly safely.”
With such dreams like sending her friend to Mars, or designing the first commercial space shuttle to take average citizens into space for recreational purposes, Grace doesn’t find it intimidating at all that some people say girls are inferior when it comes to practicing math and science.
“I don’t find it very hurtful or threatening, I just brush it aside. I don’t really need their opinion on that,” Grace said. “I think girls can do anything, and if they try hard, they can be better than men if they want to.”
After all, in Grace Stewart’s universe, there is no glass ceiling when it comes to reaching for the stars.
“The sky is not the limit,” Grace concluded. “Space is.”