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Student a Special Guest at State of the Union Address

Mentored by members of EAA Chapter 57

Mikayla Nelson
Photo credit: Billings Gazette
Mikayla Nelson shows the award-winning solar-powered car she helped design and build in the EAA Chapter 57 hangar.

January 25, 2011 — For Mikayla Nelson, a freshman at Billings, Montana’s Central Catholic High School, the past several days have been a whirlwind. She received a call last week from the White House inviting her to attend tonight’s State of the Union address as a guest of Michelle Obama.

The invitation wasn’t totally out of the blue. In April 2010 Mikayla and her classmates entered their scratchbuilt carbon-fiber electric vehicle in the National Science Bowl, which caught the attention of the U.S. Department of Energy and led to Mikayla’s invitation to participate in the White House Science Fair in October. There she met the President and Mrs. Obama.

The electric car, along with many other youth projects, was built and tested at the EAA Chapter 57 hangar at the Billings International Airport. Mikayla credits the chapter with encouraging her and others in their science and engineering interests.

“If it wasn’t for them getting me started on this road, I wouldn’t be here,” she told the Billings Gazette. In particular, her middle school science teacher, chapter member Patrick Kenney, has served as her mentor.

“She’s spent at least 2,500 hours in the hangar over the past three years,” Kenney said, noting Mikayla and others have learned welding and other building skills. Chapter 57 makes an effort to nurture and support area youth, such as The Pietenpol Kids, featured in the April and September 2007 issues of Sport Aviation magazine.

She’s also taken some flight lessons and has other projects in progress, including a custom VW Bug, says Chapter 57 president Steve Tostenrud, EAA 712805.

“It was amazing!” Mikayla said afterwards. “I was so nervous – so many important people in that room, it’s indescribable – also much different than it appears on TV.”

She was seated to the left of the First Lady, three rows back. “I was able to talk with Michelle Obama for a while, and got my picture taken with her and the President,” she said.

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