For science-obsessed Catholic Ladies’ College student Lily Hopping, a recent whirlwind trip to Texas to meet NASA scientists and represent her school at the HASSE Space Camp reminded her to reach for the stars.
“I felt so excited when it was confirmed I was definitely going,” Hopping said of the moment she learnt she would be the sole CLC student attending the excursion.
“I began to get more involved in physics at school too, as I wanted to learn lots about astrophysics so when I went over to NASA I could keep up with the pros.”
While representing her school halfway around the world was slightly nerve-wracking for then 15-year-old Hopping, the opportunity to pursue her interests and take advantage of the opportunity outweighed any initial anxieties.
With the encouragement of her mum and CLC behind her, Hopping found herself meeting other students who were also representing their schools in a new country.
“I met girls from all over Australia… I made some good friends. I’m still in contact with a lot of them,” she said, noting that her fellow attendees shared a mutual passion for science.
For Hopping, who excels in the typically male-dominated STEM environment, the trip also offered her the opportunity to meet a role model in the field.
NASA Life Support Engineer Dr Heather Paul spoke to Hopping about her own experiences thriving in the engineering environment, and the various barriers she overcame during her career.
“The advice that she gave and stories she told really stuck,” Hopping said, noting that she has taken Paul’s words to heart.
While meeting astronauts, engineers, scientists and professors, exploring training facilities and past spacecrafts was a “surreal” experience for Hopping, one important lesson she took away from the trip was that it is possible to pursing science to the highest levels.
“…all these amazing people, at the end of the day, are just people. They've worked hard to get to where they are; they weren't born into being where they are today. It made me realise I can really do anything if I put my mind to it,” she said.
The trip also illustrated the power of applying scientific concepts to real life situations.
“We were talking about rocket projectiles, and used Pythagorus' theory. I found Pythagorus' theory a bit dull in Year 9 math, but it was so interesting to see it applied in real life.”
While Hopping is currently considering a career in medicine, she said that the support of her teachers has been an important part of her discovering her passion for science.
“Mrs Pike has been my science teacher since Year 8 … Her engaging way of teaching and love for science is contagious and makes learning exciting and enticing. If it wasn't for her, I probably wouldn't have thought about going on this trip. Also, if it wasn't for her, I also wouldn't be doing the multiple science and maths subjects I am doing today,” Hopping said.