Submitted by Jim Christensen, NASA ERC/distance learning coordinator, Northwest AEA:

What a great feeling it is when great things happen for really good kids. This past summer I was privileged to be a part of one of these success stories. Lindsay Berkenpas, a graduated senior from Le Mars Gehlen High School, was awarded the Dick Edwards Award for Leadership at the International Space Settlement Design Competition conducted at Johnson Space Center. This is an award presented in honor of a gentleman who was a model of professionalism and quiet, confident, data-driven leadership. Lindsay was one of four awardees selected from a pool of approximately 160 highly talented students from the United States, Australia, Pakistan, India, Romania, England and Uruguay.

At the International Space Settlement Design Competition, Lindsay worked with approximately 35 other students to form an aerospace engineering company for the purpose of creating a proposal to build a city on the moon. The company faced the challenge of a complex task to be accomplished in a short time from the efforts of a group of near-strangers holding dearly to their own ideas. Clearly this is an environment that demands leadership.

Beyond the facts of the competition, there are many other facets to this success story that make it unique. In fact, Lindsay’s participation in the competition is the result of several levels of cooperation. Although Lindsay attended Le Mars Gehlen, the science class that qualified her to participate is conducted at Le Mars Public through a highly successful cooperative agreement between the schools. She qualified to attend the international competition as a result of being on the winning company at a qualifying competition conducted at Johnson Space Center last March. This competition represented a cooperative venture among Northwest AEA, area school districts, a Nebraska high school, a South Dakota high school, Houston-area school districts, NASA, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and a number of engineering corporations in the Houston area.

To make the March competition possible, the participating districts each contribute toward the budget, but more importantly, contribute a chaperone, preparation time, and support for the students who attend. Sending a chaperone may sound like a small thing, but these high school teachers are giving up a weekend to ride 36 hours on a bus and sleep on the floor at a recreation center, all while supervising students.

Northwest AEA organizes the competition, including the venue, accommodations, travel and volunteers to make it all happen.

Lindsay was a member of a group that formed a company while at the internationals that included students from Colorado, Australia, and England. You can imagine the logistics of bringing so many students together. You might also recognize the cultural challenges and opportunities such competition provides for the students.

In the end, a whole lot of very bright and talented students, supported by countless members of schools and businesses around the world, came together in order to sharpen their abilities to apply knowledge of science and mathematics, practice their creativity and improve their abilities to communicate and collaborate.

I doubt Lindsay had any idea she would receive the award for leadership. She is a quiet, competent leader, the kind that would never expect to stand out. She really just wanted to do her part to help her company do its very best. We have a lot of great kids around here like Lindsay. I just love it when a person like her is recognized for excellence.

Congratulations to Lindsay Berkenpas, and everyone who worked together to make the opportunity available, on both receiving the Dick Edwards Award for Leadership and being a person to whom we can proudly identify as a Northwest AEA story of success.