Teen finds passion in people, science

Colorado Aerospace Roundtable launches hands-on experience

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Webster

Drew Webster learned this summer that science isn't all about hard facts and cold laboratories.

“I guess I learned that people are my passion,” she said. “I like to spend as much time with people as possible. … I just really want to help people, because that's where I get immediate satisfaction.”

That's not something you expect to hear from a 17-year-old high-school student who just finished the first-ever Colorado Aerospace Internship Experience, where the focus was on things like engineering, robotics, rockets and other things distinctly nonhuman.

But Webster now knows that she can blend her love of humanity and mad science skills into a career in biomedical engineering, where she might save millions of lives one day or be able to travel to space and observe its effects on astronauts.

Joe Rice, director of government relations for Lockheed Martin Space Systems and a Colorado Space Business Roundtable board member, said that's the kind of inspiration the internship was aiming for.

“Whatever decision she makes, it certainly broadened her horizons,” he said. “And the other kids benefited from having her in the program.”

Webster, who will be a senior at Arapahoe High School in the fall, always knew she wanted to be some kind of engineer, but the program solidified her interest in the biomedical field.

“My takeaway was that engineering is definitely what I want to do,” she said. “I was worried about personalities, but I learned people actually aren't nerdy and introverted. There are a lot of really fun people I can work with. And I'm good at this, so I'm definitely going to want to get involved.”

The internship is a two-week immersive program designed to bring together high-school and college students, mostly from rural areas, to experience a “day in the life” at places like Lockheed Martin, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boeing and United Launch Alliance.

“It is crucial to the survival of this industry that we provide a platform that allows the next generation to engage with the current workforce,” said Stacey DeFore, chair of Colorado Space Business Roundtable. “(It gives) students the chance to gain insight into our nation's leading aerospace organizations, an experience which few are lucky enough to have. It is our goal through this program to encourage more young students to further their education in a core STEM capacity so that one day they will become the mentor.”

But in the moment, it was just awesome, said Webster. They got to program robots, engineer soda-bottle rockets, tour the control rooms at Lockheed and lay eyes on Orion, which will be used for manned deep-space exploration. The goal is to someday land it on Mars. Its first mission is scheduled for 2017.

They spent some time at Boeing flying a 737 — simulator style, of course.

“Pretty much every single one of us crashed it,” flying upside down or into fields, she said. “We weren't so good at being pilots.”

It's maybe one of the only things she's not good at. Even though she's had two jobs for about a year now, she's made time for National Honor Society, basketball, student council and to be president of the Arapahoe High chapter of Future Business Leaders of America. Her interest in political science led her to Washington, D.C., for the Close Up project, similar to the Colorado Aerospace Internship Experience for government.

“I've been experimenting,” she said. “If you don't know what you want to do in life, don't worry about it. There's plenty of time to figure it out. Just get yourself out there, and eventually your passion will find you, as it did me.”