Alexis Barber earned the opportunity of a lifetime, but only after she’d given up hope on making the cut.
The 16-year-old Mountain View student, who was one of more than 1,000 applicants for the weeklong Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy, was told she’d receive notification about her application the week of Thanksgiving last year.
Her agonizing wait continued past the holiday, however, with Thanksgiving coming and going without any word from the Huntsville, Alabama-based program.
Thankfully for Barber, the news she’d waited months to hear did, in fact, come a few days later, when she learned that she’d be one of 292 students to take part in the STEM-centered academy.
For Barber, being accepted into the academy was a dream come true given her lifelong ambition to pursue pharmacology.
She was the lone person from the Greater Tucson Metro Area selected for the program, joining students from 41 countries and 27 U.S. states and territories at the weeklong academy.
Barber said the academy, which featured everything from spinning in a multi-axis centrifuge, to taking part in a simulated space walk and solving real-life leadership simulations, lived up to her expectations.
“I came to Huntsville hoping to get an idea or at least a step in any direction on what I want to do with my life,” she said. “And I feel as though that happened very early on during the week thanks to Honeywell providing me this opportunity.”
Tammy Wolfe, who serves as Honeywell’s senior manager of corporate social responsibility, said the academy serves a myriad of purposes for the North Carolina-based corporation.
“One of the primary focuses Honeywell has when it comes to developing our future work force and students—we’ve tried to use a lot of different unique ways to get them excited and interested about [STEM], particularly with girls—we’ve found that the more students can experience real life activities the more meaningful it is,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe said that being selected to the HLCA is a rare accomplishment, with more than 1,000 applicants each year.
Students are required to submit their grades and answer questions about their motivation for pursuing STEM-related subjects. Barber and other applicants also had to write three essays on STEM and what they’ve done to help in their local communities.
The 292 students that made the cut qualified for three college credit hours at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, in addition to the life lessons they learned in the academy’s various simulations and drills.
Wolfe said Honeywell’s purpose in hosting the HLCA program, since its inception in 2010, has been to motivate the next generation of students to pursue science and math-centered fields.
“We use STEM and space flight as the background for it, but one of our primary goals of this program is to teach teamwork and leadership skills,” Wolfe said. “This program is basically a week-long immersed experience of the students, where we bring in students from all around the globe.”
Barber, who plays softball at Mountain View, said her ability to juggle the time constraints of sports with her rigorous academic load has taught her a lot of valuable life skills.
“Softball definitely taught me at a young age that one person cannot be in charge of everything,” she said. “So, whether it’s a group project or a team game, you have to rely on those around you.”
Barber’s father, Shawn, said his daughter’s experience in Huntsville will serve her well in the long-run, regardless of which field she goes into in the future.
“We live in a truly global connected world, and the likelihood of working with or interacting with somebody from a different culture or country is almost guaranteed,” he said. “Alexis’ visit to HLCA that was held at Space Camp would undoubtedly put her in situations where she had to depend on her global counterparts.”
Barber’s trip to Alabama, which came during the last week of February, has already paid dividends, helping her gain knowledge that she’s put to use in her science and math classes.
She’s grateful to have a bounty of STEM subjects to study in school, and to have the opportunity to pursue her athletic and academic dreams.
“The most enjoyable thing about my STEM classes is the fact that everyone else in that class wants to be there as much as I do,” Barber said. “I take honors Algebra II, and all the other students in my class decided that they wanted to push themselves to make themselves better later on.”