ChesCo student enjoys ‘far out' learning experience

Downingtown STEM Academy student Eric Wan (foreground) and Jordan Janssen of Little Chute ,WI (background) at mission control during Enterprise Shuttle simulation flight during the 2013 Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy. Photo credit: Mark Davis for Honeywell

Growing up, children are told to “reach for the stars.”

And as it turns out, Downingtown STEM Academy Sophomore Eric Wan might already be half way there.

Wan, a 16-year-old Chester Springs resident, was awarded a scholarship to the Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy (HCLA).

The scholarship, which was awarded to 227 students across the world, made it possible for Wan to attend two programs, each a week long, from February 23 to March 8 at the United States Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

“I was really excited,” Wan said, reminiscing on when he learned he would be attending HLCA. “I didn’t know what to say.”

Wan’s mom, Yonghong Chen, added, “I think it’s wonderful and he got an experience he never got before.”

HLCA, which is a part of Honeywell Hometown Solutions’ corporate citizenship initiative, was open to the children of Honeywell’s employees so when Wan’s mom asked him if he wanted like to put in an application to the program he said yes.

The program gave students an opportunity to engage in sessions addressing current issues in science, technology and engineering. HLCA offered interactive activities including, simulating jet-fighter pilot training and scenario-based space missions, to develop students’ capacities and build leadership skills.

“The program was solely based on learning to work with people around the globe,” Wan said, adding that they focused on not just being a team member but a team leader as well.

Wan noted that his favorite part was working as a team with the space simulators. Wan was acting in the role of the mission controller for his team and said he learned the functions of “a lot of buttons” and “what to do when things went wrong.”

HLCA also gave students the chance to meet with top scientists, engineers and former astronauts who provided first-hand accounts of their professional experience.

The speaker that resonated the most with Wan was a space shuttle pilot who he, incidentally, did not remember the name of.

“It was interesting to see him because he wanted to be a pilot when he was a kid,” Wan said. He added that the speaker spoke of his interest in science and aviation that started when he was a kid and it was interesting to see how that interest led him to a career.

“I enjoyed hearing his experience and story,” Wan said.

There were students from 30 countries and 26 U.S. states at HLCA, and Wan enjoyed meeting people from other places and hearing about what it was like where they were from.

“I did enjoy meeting new people,” he said. “It was just great to talk to people form around the globe.”

Wan, who hopes to major in an applied science field in college, noted that learning to work in groups was an important skill for him to learn.

“As a scientist in real life you have to work with people,” he said, adding that he is glad he now knows that he can work in a real science environment with others.

Chen believes that attending the program increased her son’s interest in science.

“He learned real world applications from the technology he learned in school,” she said.

In addition to the academic benefits Wan received from attending HLCA, he will definitely always look back at the two-weeks as being a great time.

“I was a great experience. I had a lot of fun,” he said.

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