While many students in high school are wondering what they will do with their lives, Fife High School junior MacKenzie Lelli-Bates is actively taking steps to become a leader in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) field. Since November, Lelli-Bates has been participating in the Washington Aerospace Scholars program, a special NASA program that prepares students for a future in engineering.
She is currently on her very last assignment for phase one of the program. This summer marks phase two, a visit to the Museum of Flight for a week in Seattle to conduct experiments and activities with NASA employees.
“[The program] introduces you to the study of aerospace and aerospace tech, and typically at the end of the course, you receive five credits from UW Seattle. Every week we have an essay to write, reading, a quiz and things like designing a mars rover or a space shuttle or something along those lines. It gives a lot of insight about NASA,” Lelli-Bates said.
Lelli-Bates has always had an interest in the STEM field but not necessarily NASA. When the opportunity to participate in the program came up, Lelli-Bates saw it as an chance to explore the field.
“My economics teacher had [a flyer for the program] on her board and I thought it sounds kind of cool. I want a job in the STEM field and I thought it would be a good gateway for me to get introduced into engineering,” Lelli-Bates said. “I’ve always been interested in bio-medical and environmental engineering, before this NASA program.
“I was always the odd one out,” she said. “I was the first cheerleader to leave and join a tech club. I want my job to help people and I believed I would be a good candidate.”
Lelli-Bates also saw the program as an opportunity to break out of stereotypes and hopefully encourage other students to do the same.
“I was a preppy cheerleader who people stereotyped as a dumb blonde who didn’t know left from right and I wanted to prove people wrong,” Lelli-Bates said. “I also believe that there are more kids out there interested in STEM jobs. It’s such a huge field and I wasn’t sure about the exact job I wanted to do. I want a variety of people to just try it. I think that more kids should give [the program] a chance instead of saying, ‘oh it’s just space.’ It’s given me more of a sense of maturity.”
The program will net Lelli-Bates college credits, which she hopes to eventually transfer to Stanford University once she graduates.
“I would love to go to Stanford. My mom had me at 16, my dad left, and she never went to college. I want to go to Stanford because I want to raise the bar for myself. If I can get into the best of the best college, that would be huge,” Lelli-Bates said. “I may be the product of a teenage mom but my passion defines me, and this is what I’m going to be.”