At White House, Nampa student tells scientists: Contests breed innovation

What's it like to meet President Obama?

Tylar Hedrick came to Washington D.C. to talk about science and ended up meeting the president.
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Tylar Hedrick came to Washington D.C. to talk about science and ended up meeting the president.

Tylar Hedrick, a freshman at Skyview High School in Nampa, believes that more student competitions would get kids’ creative juices flowing in science, technology, engineering and math.

“If we apply that competitive spirit to STEM activities, we are going to come up with getting kids a lot more involved,” she said.

Hedrick, a 14-year-old who loves engineering, got the rare opportunity last week to share her ideas with top officials from NASA, the National Science Foundation and a presidential science adviser. She was one of 11 students from across the country to make up the first team of Kid Science Advisers created by the White House.

She goes beyond what you would expect from an adult, much less a student.

Aaron Moiso, Lone Start Middle School engineering teacher, on Tylar Hedrick’s hard work

They met in Washington on Oct. 21, got to go to the White House and had a surprise visit from President Barack Obama.

“It was a little bit of a shocker,” she said.

Tylar’s journey had a few twists and turns of its own.

Erica Compton, Idaho Stem Action Center program manager, heard from the White House asking her to find a student from Idaho to be on the adviser team. Compton took the request to Aaron Moiso, who was Tylar’s engineering instructor last year at Lone Star Middle School.

Moiso thought about his students who were part of a team that designed a suitcase that unfolded into a tent, to be used for temporary housing by people who are, for example, homeless. The team took the idea to the National Makers Fair in spring.

Tylar had been a member of that team and was available to go to Washington, D.C.

But the invitation vanished almost as soon as it was offered. The White House said it had processed all the students and could not take Tylar, too. Her mother, Christy Stansell, called U.S. Rep Raul Labrador’s office looking for help. A staffer made contact with the White House and got Tylar’s trip back on track.

Tylar Hedrick arrived in Washington D.C. at 3 a.m. Friday morning, got about three hours of sleep and before heading to the White House to meet with some of the country’s top science leaders.

Spending a day as a young science adviser was a perfect fit with Tylar’s long-term dream to get a job in a science and engineering field — and run the nation’s space agency.

“I want to work for NASA and eventually, someday, when (NASA Administrator Charles Bolden) retires, have the same position he has right now.”

Her STEM love was born in elementary school after meeting Barbara Morgan, an Idaho teacher who spent years at NASA and went on a space shuttle mission.

“It was amazing to see all her experiences and that she had been up in space,” said Tylar, a straight-A student.

The heads of NASA and the National Science Foundation were respectful and interested in what the students told them, Tylar said.

“They treated us like equals,” she said. “They didn’t treat us like little kids whose opinions didn’t matter.”

Those science leaders may have wanted to learn what those young people had to say, and in return they inspired the students.

“It is definitely very inspiring for me to get even more involved,” she said.