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Igniting passion for STEM

Matthew Arnolds has just returned from a life-changing US trip where he received a unique opportunity to ‘train like an astronaut’. Photo: Supplied

the Teacher reporter

Most schools in the impoverished parts of the country still lack basic equipment and resources critical for teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) subjects — all of which require practical and experiential engagement.

This impacts directly on the learners’ performance, as they cannot carry out experiments and other related activities that enhance their understanding of the abstract concepts and theories associated with Stem subjects.

Difficult background

Any learner coming from such a deprived background will grab with both hands an invitation to learn in an environment that boasts interactive and state-of-the-art facilities. One such lucky person is Matthew Arnolds from Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape. He is the only South African picked from 320 students in 45 countries, 27 US states and other territories to take part in the annual Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy space camp in the US. This is part of a leadership programme where Honeywell hosts students for two consecutive week-long sessions at the US Space and Rocket Centre (USSRC) in Huntsville, Alabama.

Hands-on activities

The academy aims to encourage excitement and engagement around Stem subjects for students between the ages of 16 and 18. The programme is designed to educate students on the importance of STEM in an ever-changing, connected world. It is steeped in practical and hands-on activities such as building and testing rockets, simulated astronaut training, shuttle missions and a moonwalk.

Learning multiple lessons

Arnolds shared his greatest moments at the space camp. “I met so many people from different places around the world: from South America, Canada, India, Russia and the UK. They all had their own traditions and customs, and learning about them was one of my main highlights. We were then split into teams; my team consisted of 16 students and we were called Inspiration. We had a bumpy start at first, battling to get to know each other’s names, but as soon as we got this right, [in] all the teamwork activities, we were unstoppable. I am still in touch with most of them, and we talk frequently.”

But, said Arnolds, “I must say my biggest highlight must be the space shuttle mission. I was the pilot and so I was in charge of landing and taking off. It was nerve-wracking because we had a short amount of time to find and click, like, 100 buttons.  But we got it right and landed the shuttle safely. I have learned multiple lessons from this trip. The other main lesson is that you should never underestimate what a team can accomplish, and that communication is key — without it, the team will not work.”

Raspberry pie

He added that one of the memorable activities he took part in was designing a rocket that would have a fragile payload: a raspberry pie. Said Arnolds: “Using the raspberry pie we calculated the rocket’s velocity, acceleration and trajectory. I have learned multiple lessons from my trip, especially how there are so many opportunities related to science. I had the time of my life at the Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy. The experience and memories will remain with me for as long as I live!”

Improving life on earth and beyond

Arnolds said he enjoyed having astronauts and engineers share their anecdotes and personal journeys and career experiences with them. Deborah Barnhart, chief executive and executive director of USSRC, said the space camps not only bring together the global Honeywell community, but also affords the students an opportunity to come up with innovative ways of planning “a future of improving life on our planet and beyond”. Added Barnhart: “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.”

Scholarships

Since it was launched in 2010, Honeywell has in partnership with the USSRC awarded 2 093 scholarships. These are awarded after a rigorous application and review process based on academic achievement and community involvement. Financial contributions from Honeywell and its employees fund the scholarships, which cover the cost of tuition, meals, accommodation and programme materials.

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