A weeklong student camp for Matt Williams wasn’t like performing brain surgery. It was just rocket science.
The Lambert High School senior recently spent a week participating in the Honeywell Leadership Challenge, which focuses on aerospace engineering.
He was among 238 high school students from 26 countries and 27 U.S. states selected to attend one of two sessions at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.
During the program in March, the students receive up to 45 hours of classroom, laboratory and field training, according to a Honeywell news release.
Students participate in many activities, including astronaut training, a variety of “stress-inducing and time-critical physical challenges” and designing, building and testing their own rockets.
A simulated jet fighter pilot mission and simulated shuttle mission were Williams’ favorite challenges of the busy week.
His team of 14 worked during the pilot mission to each fly a craft with limited fuel to bomb a facility. If one person returns alive, the team has accomplished the mission.
“Our team was the most successful. We had four people make it back,” he said, adding that his own simulated flight wasn’t as fortunate.
The mission, like many other activities at the camp, served other purposes as a team-building and leadership exercise.
“You actually had fighter jet controls. It was hard to get used to for some people,” Williams said. “So we had to work on helping other people so we would successfully complete the mission.”
Another team exercise, during which he got his team across logs using a series of planks, earned Williams a critical thinking award.
He said those types of challenges are his forte.
“I’m good at puzzles and stuff,” he said. “That was one of the things I led the group in. I helped us get through a lot of those tasks.”
Williams, who like all the participants attended the program free on a scholarship, has a parent who works for the Honeywell company.
His father received an e-mail about the program and passed it along to his son to apply.
Students were selected based on grade-point average and extracurricular activities, as well as some short essay questions, which a science-minded Williams said were the part that concerned him.
During the camp, Williams said he gained new skills, friends and an outlook on potential future career paths.
“It helped a lot, and not just for engineering,” he said. “All the team-building skills we worked would help in any career.
“I was not sure what I wanted to do exactly. If I did engineering, aerospace would be one of the top choices now.”
Williams’ mother, Sandra, said the camp gave him “a real taste in engineering to see if he really was interested in that side.”
She wasn’t surprised at his interest or acceptance into the program.
“He’s always been really strong across the board,” she said. “Whatever he puts his mind to, he’s successful at.”
This fall, he plans to attend Berry College in Rome, where he will play on the school’s soccer team and may study engineering.
At Lambert, Williams is on the varsity soccer team and also involved in the school’s rocketry team.
Scott Luthart, sponsor of the program, said Williams’ team of 10 recently posted an amazing competition score that qualified them for a national competition.
“He’s a great asset because he brings that commitment and higher-level thinking,” said Luthart, pointing to Williams’ tough course load and attaining lofty personal goals.
Luthart also teaches Williams in an Advanced Placement physics course this year, which he signed up for as an elective.
His teacher said he hadn’t heard much about Williams’ experiences at Honeywell, but wasn’t surprised the student would be a good fit for the program.
“Anything that gives him that opportunity, I think he would be all over it,” Luthart said
“I consider myself blessed to have a chance to work with kids like him … He’s going to do great things in the future.”