Oct 07, 2019

Hannah Valdes Taking on Rocketry, College, Community Service

By Lori Draz and Hannah Valdes

Welcome to Teen Scene. Each month our young authors write, in their own voice, stories that will educate and inform fellow students and parents. If you are a teen who would like to write your story, contact The Journal. We’ll help you polish it up, so don’t worry. Let’s just get to sharing.

This month, The Journal is looking at all the ways technology affects the world we live in and its impact on the future. Last month, we met an animal-loving teen member of the 4-H and learned that the 4-H is a lot more than agriculture. This month’s author is 18-year-old Hannah Valdes, a young lady with her eyes on the skies. Hannah has just begun her college studies and is looking forward to seeing where the love of science and technology she developed in 4-H will take her. Hannah took her first chance by being willing to try joining an organization she didn’t know much about. She put aside her preconceived notions, kept an open mind and began on a path full of adventure, self-discovery and friendships. No matter how old you are, forgetting what you think you know and shaking hands with a new opportunity is always good to try. Here is Hannah’s story:

Before I became a 4-H member, I believed that 4-H was an organization entirely for youth that live on farms or work with livestock. Since I fit neither of these qualifications, I had very little interest in my county’s 4-H. However, in fourth grade, after some convincing from my parents, I reluctantly joined the Monmouth Blasters Rocketry Club, of Monmouth County 4-H. That single decision opened countless doors of opportunity in my life, and gifted me with invaluable lifelong memories and friends. I got to do and see a lot of cool things, plus come on, who doesn’t love to watch a rocket launch?

Through the Blasters Rocketry Club, I learned the physics and aerodynamics of model rockets and began to engineer my own. My former club leader, Chris Whitehouse, taught each member patience and precision, in learning to perfect the art of rocketry. Mr. Whitehouse’s enthusiasm for hands-on learning experiences kindled a love for science in all of the members. As my knowledge of rocketry grew and my years in 4-H continued, I kept adding new experiences to my learning. I was fortunate enough to visit multiple high strength telescopes, planetariums and aerospace museums. I got to privately tour the Goddard Space Flight Center of NASA and the aircraft hangars of United Airlines at Newark International Airport. These experiences broadened my educational horizons and allowed me to discover my earnest passion for SET (Science, Engineering, Technology) projects.

At a young age, I also became aware of the importance of community service. I participated in monthly service projects that included activities like collection drives, community cleanups, educational outreach programs, and fundraisers for charities and shelters. Each month, I spent more than 15 hours of service on these various projects and have made community service a consistent way of life.

All of these activities taught me that I can make a difference in my world and community. I saw the positive effects of my actions on others, and I realized that change in the world starts with me. You can make the same kind of changes in your world and community by simply making a commitment and sticking to it.

As a result of my early 4-H experiences, I became increasingly fascinated by SET careers and organizations. I went on to find my high school’s competitive robotics team and became president of the Blasters Rocketry Club. Soon after, I accepted the role of SET Ambassador of Monmouth County 4-H and was thrilled when I earned the title of 2018 Fair Ambassador. These roles helped to foster my developing leadership skills and taught me that in order to be a successful leader, you must learn to work well with groups and be receptive to others’ opinions. Through leading meetings and large groups, my organizational skills improved and my communication abilities were refined.

Thanks to the interest in SET careers that 4-H sparked inside of me, I will be continuing my academic journey to study biology with a molecular concentration at Monmouth University, as part of their pre-medical program. If not for the opportunities in 4-H and Mr. Whitehouse’s encouragement, I never would have discovered my passion for SET, and I would likely not be pursuing this career path. My 4-H journey and my leaders along the way inspired me to continue to follow my passions, and I am beyond grateful for all I learned through this organization. 4-H has provided me with countless invaluable opportunities, and has also gifted me with lifelong memories, friends and mentors to last a lifetime.

Now as I begin my studies that will carry me through my adult life, I easily remember my fourth grade self, who agreed to take a chance on joining a group I didn’t think I belonged in. I never knew I had a love of physics and rocketry in me, but being open to a new experience and education has given me a purpose and a real excitement for the future. Maybe there’s some undiscovered passion or skill you have in you, too. It’s important to try new things and to not worry about whether you’ll like it or be good at it. Just try it. When it comes to your future, the sky’s the limit.