BALLINGER — Ballinger High School student Hannah Holcomb was selected to be one of 60 students, chosen from students around the world, to attend Texas A&M’s Geo X weeklong camp during the summer.
“I was in first period, Mrs. Harral’s Government and Economics class, when I got the email telling me that I had been selected,” Holcomb said. “I was excited and almost started crying. I wasn’t expecting to get in. It was amazing.”
From the time Holcomb applied to the time she received the selection notification was about six weeks. Holcomb said that the program selected students that they felt had good leadership qualities and who were passionate about the program.
The weeklong Geo X program is part of Texas A&M’s College of Geosciences. The program is fully funded by BP and by the Geosciences college and thus does not cost the attendees any money. They are housed in dorms and their meals are paid for. To apply, students must complete and submit the Geo X application, a 350-word “statement of interest,” contact information for references and their PSAT/SAT and ACT scores.
One key requirement is that the applicant must supply evidence “of a well-rounded mix of school, community and volunteer activities.” Holcomb was a perfect fit for the program. She has organized community activities such as “Boss’ Closet” where she accepted clothing donations from around the town for kids who needed dress clothes for concerts or other activities and could not afford them. This summer she is organizing food drives to benefit the local food pantry. Not one to let grass grow under her feet, Holcomb is also the first basewoman on the varsity softball team and was a founding member and current chairwoman of the business group DECA, at Ballinger High School. Holcomb is also involved in the high school fall production and helps create the school yearbook.
With all that she is involved with, it is not a stretch to imagine that of her high school years, she will most remember that one week this summer when she attended the Geo X course.
“My mom, Cassie, is a Texas A&M alum so we drove there and arrived about an hour early,” Holcomb said. “When we arrived, we were met my counselors who are students at the university and many of them were involved in Geo X themselves. They were all really welcoming and it was exciting.”
Holcomb’s father, Kurt, is the groundskeeper for the schools. Her great-uncle was Rudolph A. Hoffman who helped train primates for space. He was also a principal investigator of several experiments at NASA.
The students who attended the Geo X course examined and studied fossils, visited a Fortune 500 company, explored the geoscience of Mars, examined core samples from the ocean and spent some time on the Texas A&M research vessel, The Trident, in the Gulf of Mexico. Holcomb said that one of the most exciting activities was mapping the route for the Mars explorer robot.
“We got to map the rover’s route and see it happen,” Holcomb said. “I realized, ‘Hey, I can work at NASA’. We had to make sure the rover had time to get to its location and we ended up mapping out the exact route.”
Their experience on the research vessel was rare as the vessel is reserved for third and fourth year students and grad students.
“We tested water clarity, we got to do a drag net, we took soil samples, we took water samples, we tested water acidity,” Holcomb said.
One bit of excitement came from some Gulf of Mexico natives, the dolphins.
“We were on the boat and the dolphins raced along beside us. It was really cool to see,” Holcomb said.
She said that she appreciates the opportunities that they were given during the course and that she didn’t know the study of Mars was so intertwined with geosciences.
They also got to visit a government lab.
“We got to go into a government regulated facility and see the projects that they were working on, Holcomb said. “But we didn’t get to see any top secret projects. We got to see a lot of cool things that the public never sees.”
The BP oil executive that they got to meet and converse with said that he, “Remembers the Geo X students.” The counselors told her that meeting someone like him can be a professional “lifeline.“
The only commodity that was not in great supply was sleep. The students had the activities and classes during the day and the attendees talked amongst themselves late into the night.
“I had a roommate from Waco and we clicked,” Holcomb said. “We’re still in contact. We’d stay up until 2 a.m. and then have to get up at 5 a.m.”
One lesson she learned was about pursuing a career.
“If you go into a professional setting and present yourself professionally, you get a lot closer to your goals,” Holcomb said. “I was raised with that, but you don’t really understand it until you meet someone like the dean of the college or the president of the university and the BP executives, that you actually realize it. There was a professor in front of me and I thought, ‘He teaches kids what I want to know,’ and he’s sitting there talking to me, a high school student.’”
Holcomb has started applying to colleges and universities and wants to major in Meteorology with a minor in Oceanography. Her goal is to study hurricanes and already has a solid understanding of them. It’s apparent that her positive experience at Geo X will have a lasting effect on her.