Real World Design students visit White House
Baldwin High School’s Real World Design Challenge students were rewarded with another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — meeting U.S. President Barack Obama.
Four of the BHS students and advisor Pam Davis were invited to Washington, D.C., last week for the first-ever White House Science Fair. Seniors Brandon Baltzell, Carson Barnes and Shelby Gregory and sophomore Carrie Deitz presented their RWDC national championship idea to Obama during a White House visit that highlighted their free three-day trip to the nation’s capital.
“It was pretty cool,” Davis said. “I’ve never been told to come to the White House before for anything. It was pretty exciting. I know Mr. (Shaun) Moseman (BHS principal) was pretty excited when he told me the news.”
The White House visit was threatened when the jet that was to take the BHS group to Washington had hydraulic problems at KCI.
“We had to make some quick calls to Delta and tell them we were going to see the president in the morning,” Baltzell said. “So we changed our flights and actually got there earlier Sunday night than we would have if we would have taken our normal flight.”
The Baldwin High students were among approximately a dozen math or science groups invited to the White House Science Fair. Obama walked around and talked to each group for a few minutes.
“They told us to only expect to talk to him for about 30 seconds, but he talked to each group about three minutes,” Baltzell said. “He definitely put himself way behind schedule, but he seemed genuinely interested in what we had to say.”
Obama talked to the BHS students about their national championship design and project. He asked the students questions and even left them laughing.
“It was a great opportunity for us to express to him about what we had done and he seemed genuinely interested,” Baltzell said. “He asked some great questions. At the end, he told us he’d really like to fly in one of our planes one day.”
Speaking directly to the president and shaking his hand was an unforgettable moment for the students.
“It was surreal,” Barnes said. “You seem him on TV everyday and there he was standing in front of us. His voice is exactly the same. I couldn't believe we were standing right in front of the president. It was pretty amazing.”
Deitz said meeting Obama was by far her favorite part of the three-day trip.
“Meeting the president was the most surreal things I have ever done,” Deitz said. “He is a highly intelligent person, and he asked pertinent questions to our project. He was very charismatic.”
Obama wasn’t the only famous person they met at the White House. The BHS students also talked to television stars Bill Nye and the Mythbusters, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman.
“The girls were giddy about meeting the Mythbusters,” Baltzell said. “We had no idea they were going to be there. They were rushing them out, so we had to be aggressive about it and get our picture taken with them. Bill Nye was really cool, too. We asked him for a picture with us. After we took one, he told us that the lighting was really bad, so he made us move for another picture. He was really cool.”
The day after the White House visit , Oct. 19, was a free day for the students. Baltzell and Barnes to advantage of the time to become official members of the Library of Congress.
“You can get into the visitors’ area, but you can’t get into the round reading area that you see on the movie ‘National Treasure’ unless you have a library card,” Barnes said. “So we went and got a library card.”
All four students and Davis toured the Capitol Building, too, on a tour U.S. Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins arranged. After their free day, it was back to the world of science on Oct. 20.
The students were invited to the Capitol Building to help kick off this year’s RWDC in front of NASA and FAA administrators, along with some of the president’s top officials. The Baldwin students briefly presented their 2010 national championship project.
“They did an excellent job of presenting,” Davis said. “I was amazed, because they didn’t practice. They just talked about their idea and what they did. I was amazed they could speak without being nervous in front of so many important people.”
Since winning the national championship last spring, the team members have experienced a lot for high school students, but they’re loving every minute of it.
“Being a part of the RWDC team is a boatload of fun,” Deitz said. “As a high school student, it is incredibly humbling to meet all of these important people. It's also exhilarating to meet them. It just shows me the potential of what my peers and I can do.”
Mac Halpin, Austin Kraus and Mason Johnson were also members of the RWDC team that won the national title last spring.