Horizon High School student

Horizon High School student Rebecca Zulch, 18, second from left, was one of eight ambassadors at this year’s Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Alabama. 

Space camp” wasn’t a term Horizon High School student Rebecca Zulch particularly liked – so much so, she resisted the idea of heading off to the annual Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

“When I was 16, my dad kept pushing it on me, and I was like, ‘This sounds super lame. I’m not going to like this,’” Zulch, 18, said.

She submitted the application anyway – and got rejected. But that rejection fueled her to apply again.

“That was almost a challenge for me,” she said. “I [said], ‘I have two more years to go back. I need to go back to this.’”

Zulch was under the impression attending space camp meant sitting around solving math problems with pen on paper.

“But I didn’t actually realize that you actually get to go experience some of the simulators they have there and do real astronaut training,” she said.

Zulch was accepted into HLCA – twice – and even became an ambassador for the program her second year.

It’s an experience she called eye-opening.

“I had never ever met that many people from that many different backgrounds and cultures,” Zulch said.

Honeywell flies 292 students between the ages of 16 and 18 from 41 countries and 27 states and territories for two week-long space camp leadership programs at HLCA.

The program is open to children of current, full-time Honeywell employees around the world.

Two Scottsdale students, Zulch and Desert Mountain High School student Rebecca Laakso, 16, attended this year’s space camp program.

For Rebecca, the space camp program was “life-changing” and “inspiring.”

“Space camp is a home away from home where I was able to learn about space and the processes gone through to go to it,” she said. “HLCA was one of the best weeks of my life, and I know the things I learned and experienced there will travel with me for my entire life.”

Zulch added that one of the highlights of the trip was working with like-minded students.

“The coolest thing for me was to see that you’re in a group of one hundred kids and every single one of them had similar thoughts to what they wanted to do later on in life that I did, just like helping, helping someone out through the use of science, math, engineering, space,” Zulch said.

Zulch and Rebecca both attended the second week of camp last month.

The programs expose students to STEM programs through innovative, immersive curriculum, including real-world, hands-on challenges in coding, computer sciences and astronautics, at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

The students develop STEM leadership skills through team-building challenges, like building, coding and testing rockets, and shuttle missions and simulated astronaut training.

“You get to experience all the flight simulators and the gravity simulators,” Zulch said. “It’s a very interesting take on to how to teach the concept of STEM.”

“Honeywell sees the need to increase educational opportunities for students by blending technical knowledge with team-building, communication and leadership skills,” said Honeywell Hometown Solutions President Mike Bennett, in a prepared statement. “The Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy aims to do that.”

Eight students from prior years were selected to return as ambassadors and mentors to the group of students.

The ambassadors are split into two groups: four for week one and four for week two.

As an ambassador, Zulch said she was surprised at how close she became with her fellow ambassadors and with her group of students.

“Last year I didn’t experience that [as a student],” she said. “I wasn’t close with the ambassadors last year, and I felt like they weren’t as close with everyone. And this year, we got really, really close with all the teams and we were interacting with them. It just really shocked me how much each person touched my life.”

Rebecca echoed this sentiment.

“I was amazed by the various cultures I was exposed to, as I met others from around the world and was able to make lifelong friendships,” she said. “My team was so close and inclusive it made me feel like I was at home, even when I was so far away from where I lived.”

After attending space camp last year, Zulch knew she wanted to apply to become an ambassador. She spoke with her parents about it, researched it extensively and spent a lot of time writing and proofreading her essays.

The day she found out she would become an ambassador was a special one for Zulch.

“It’s actually a cool story,” she stared. “I was with my newborn baby cousin when I got the email that I was going to be an ambassador. I thought that was cool because I got to meet her for the first time the second I found out I was going to be an ambassador.”

Honeywell awards scholarships to the students selected to attend HLCA.

The scholarships pay for the students’ flights, meals, program materials and boarding for the week.

“So my parents literally just had to pay the gas money to drive me to Sky Harbor and that was it,” Zulch said.

Since its launch in 2010, Honeywell, in partnership with the USSRC, has awarded more than 2,709 scholarships to students.

“Engaging students in science and engineering is now as fundamentally important as learning to read and write,” said Dr. Deborah Barnhart, U.S. Space & Rocket Center CEO and executive director, in a prepared statement. “By investing in these young students, Honeywell is helping to prepare them to become the global STEM-literate citizens who will change our world.”

On the last day of Zulch’s trip, her fellow ambassadors and the rest of the students took a group picture together. It was a moment she won’t soon forget.

“Everyone just started cheering for us and chanting our names. I thought that was the coolest thing because for me that made me feel like I had really made a difference in their lives if they appreciated us that much,” she recalled.

At HLCA, Zulch was surprised to see an equal ratio of girls and boys.

“The boys don’t overshadow the girls,” she said. “There were three main people we had to report to, and all three of them were female. And I thought it was really cool just in that sense that they were kind of the driving forces behind the Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy.”

The three women Zulch was referring to were Tammy Wolfe, senior manager of Global Corporate Social Responsibility at Honeywell; Karla Windham, manager of Space Camp Custom Groups; and Sarah Crane, logistics manager.

According to research by the National Science Foundation, women do receive bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering at about an equal rate as men.

However, women receive far fewer degrees in computer sciences, engineering and mathematics – 18 percent, 19 percent and 43 percent, respectively.

Further, research by the Computing Technology Industry Association reveals that 69 percent of women who have not pursued careers in information technology attribute their choice to not knowing what opportunities are available to them.

Zulch, for one, would like to see more girls apply to the HLCA program.

“There’s a big push for STEM nowadays, especially with women, and I feel like the hardest part about that is people don’t exactly know how to teach it and make it fun at the same time,” she said. “This program does an incredible job of doing that.”

It’s because of HLCA Zulch decided to pursue both engineering and cultural studies in college.

“[If I get] the scholarship I’m waiting to hear back on [at Colorado State University], it’ll allow me to do a five-year program and I’ll get a double major in engineering science and interdisciplinary studies and then a minor in a language,” she said.

Zulch is also following in the footsteps of her father, who is an electrical engineer for the aerospace sector at Honeywell.

“[HLCA] really opened my eyes to the amount of cool experiences that are out there,” she said. “I’ve been toying with the idea of doing something with engineering for a long time because both my parents are engineers, but growing up as a kid and [attending] a public high school, it’s always, ‘Engineering is not that cool.’”

Zulch continued, “Going to this camp, it helped me realize that you can do a lot of really interesting and productive things with it. And it made me really love my dad’s jobs so much more.”

Information: honeywell.com/citizenship/hometown-solutions/leadership-academy