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Columbia Connections: Students Meet NASA Astronaut at Aerospace Dinner

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


“It was so amazing to see pictures of this guy in space and then have him be right there in front of you.”

That was Sophomore Spears Goodlett’s reaction when he attended the Annual Aerospace Dinner at the 2016 South Carolina Aerospace Conference & Expo and heard from guest of honor Winston Scott, a former NASA astronaut.


Spears was one of six Heathwood students who, along with Upper School science teachers Jim Morris and Tim McKnight, were invited to attend the Aerospace Dinner, which was the keynote event at the Aerospace Conference hosted byUSC’s McNAIR Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research on August 24-25.

The invitation came about through Heathwood’s Columbia Connections program, which extends our learning environment beyond the classroom by connecting students with leaders in the local academic, cultural, scientific, non-profit, and business communities and creating opportunities for students to work with these community members and gain a more in-depth understanding of how the skills and knowledge they acquire in the classroom translate into real-world action.

Students interested in attending the dinner were invited to submit a short essay explaining why they would like to be included in Heathwood’s delegation. The six students who were selected were Senior Matt Watford, Junior Athreya Murali, Sophomores Julia Lauterbach, Spears Goodlett, and Ben Mathews, and Freshman Clay Mitchell.


“I have always been fascinated by space flight and the courage it takes for astronauts to go into space,” Julia said in her application essay. “Learning more about how living on earth compares to living in space for a total of 21 days would be a wonderful experience.”

“The ability to be with people from the fields of academia and aerospace, as well as members of the government, is an opportunity I don’t think anyone could pass up,” Ben said. “I am especially interested in this event because aerospace-related topics aren’t something that you can find in most science camps, especially at the detail that would be present in a conference of this caliber.”


At the dinner, Mr. McKnight said, “We were treated like royalty by the organizers and Captain Scott himself. During the question and answer time it was evident that Captain Scott really wanted to make the students in attendance be the guests of honor.  A microphone was passed around and several of our students were able to ask questions of Astronaut Scott.  After the Q & A session we were escorted through a back entrance into the hospitality room where the student attendees were treated to being in the front of the line to visit face-to-face with Captain Scott.”

That, said Spears, was what made the dinner particularly memorable. “I thought the dinner was just out of this world—no pun intended,” he said. “Above all, my favorite part was getting my picture taken with Captain Scott and shaking hands with him and realizing that the hand I shook had been to space. I am so grateful for the opportunity to attend this event.”