GURNEE – Warren Township High School junior Nikitas Adamopoulos was one of 13 Illinois students selected to attend Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. during the last week of February. Fourteen Chicago-area students attended among 304 students from 38 countries and 33 U.S. states and territories.
“The international program is designed to build their leadership skills and to inspire the next generation of students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. It’s genuinely a life-changing event for these kids,” said program manager Pratibha Poswal.
HLCA includes shuttle missions, weightlessness training, simulated jet-fighter pilot training, scenario-based space-walking missions, designing, building and testing their own rockets and meeting with top scientists, engineers and former astronauts to reinforce core leadership competencies and provide them with first-hand accounts of remarkable professional experiences.
While there, Adamopoulos won the Dave Cote Leadership Award during HLCA. Only one student gets this award each week for displaying excellent leadership skills.
Adamopoulos, 16, said he’s interested in engineering as part of Project Lead the Way classes at Warren Township High School’s Almond campus. He’s also interested in leadership and serves as a representative on Warren’s student council.
“This helped me build my leadership skills and took me out of my comfort zone,” said Adamopoulos, who applied to be considered for the camp.
Adamopoulos said he went on astronaut simulations similar to rollercoaster rides.
“I was afraid of heights. I’m not a fan of roller coasters,” he said, adding that Six Flags Great America didn’t prepare him for the experience. He said working together as a team helped motivate him and his fellow students to give it a try.
“We did a simulation as if repairing a rocket in space. Doing that made me realize how meticulous space missions are. Presenters told us about their experiences. It’s very technical,” he said, adding that the presenters touched on how reality is nothing like the movie Gravity.
He learned that the state of U.S. space programs is that while they aren’t sending people into space, they are sending robots and remote controlled robots. There are even plans of having people living on the moon in 20 years, Adamopolous said.
“They taught us the aspects of rocketships -- how big it is and how much thrust it needs, and seeing how big it was blew my mind,” Adamopoulos said. “It was at least four school buses in length.”
He had to voice his input on projects, build a rocket that could safely land on the ground and put his imagination to the test, Adamopoulos said.
“They gave me the award because I exemplified leadership skills and got along with everyone there,” Adampoulos said. “My counselor said he nominated me because I stepped up when I had to, and stepped down to give other kids a chance. That’s what makes a great leader.” Adamopoulos said he won’t forget that advice.
The experience made Adamopoulos consider aerospace engineering as a career and gave him more confidence, he said. “People have a stereotype of engineers as being studious and keeping to themselves, but they’re not all textbook people. They’re nice and talkative,” he said.
He’ll also walk away with bonds of friendship.
“Now I have really good friends all over the world. We’re planning a reunion here in the states,” he said. “It’s a great program. You build friendships and get to improve your skills.”