For her seventh grade science fair project, Bedford Middle School student Hannah Steele made a “magnetometer” to detect directions of magnetic fields from solar flares.
Months later, that achievement left her standing in the Oval Office and shaking hands with President Obama, a magnetic attraction in his own right.
As a regional science fair winner who advanced to Broadcom Masters, a premier middle school science and engineering fair competition that draws in top performing students from across the country, Hannah traveled to Washington D.C. for several days in late September and early October for the event.
She was among a group of 30 students who had 15 minutes of full access to Obama in the White House. Traveling to D.C., she did not expect to meet the president.
After going through heavy security in her first trip to the White House, she said the group was taken to the Rose Garden. Obama arrived and shook each student’s hand and learned their names before taking a group photo.
She said she expected Obama to leave after the photo but he gave the group a short tour of the Oval Office, let them touch his desk, showed off some patents and paintings, and answered a few questions. The meeting was just prior to the partial government shutdown that was gripped Washington politics so Hannah said she thought it was neat he found time to meet with a group of teenagers.
“It was a real honor,” the 13-year-old said. “I don’t care if you like the current president or not, just being able to say you met him and shook his hand and he knows your name, that’s really amazing.”
He appeared to be in good spirits despite all the news surrounding the shutdown, Hannah said. Leaders of Broadcom, who escorted the group, said his advisors were thankful for the visit because of his stress from that tense week, Hannah said, adding: “we were the highlight of his day.”
She wasn’t too nervous about meeting Obama but made sure to keep calm during such a memorable moment.
“I thought if I was lucky enough to see the Oval Office in my life, it wouldn’t be until after I was 50, not when I was 13,” Hannah said. “It was really, really amazing knowing that I’ve been in the Oval Office, something that most people don’t get to do.”
Hannah, the daughter of Liberty High School science and math teacher Jeffrey Steele, has partaken in science fairs since the fourth grade. Science and math are her favorite subjects and she is interested in pursuing a career in astrophysics.
“I like everything about science,” she said. “There’s so much that we don’t know. It’s my belief that as a human, as a living being, we need to learn as much as we can about the world around us.”
The group of 30 who met Obama consisted of finalists from more than 6,000 who applied from across the nation. Hannah, an eighth-grader, said she was “so incredibly floored” to learn she had been selected to the national competition and winning the expense paid trip to D.C. along with $750.
Her classmates often tune her out when she talks about results of her science fairs, but meeting Obama garnered much more attention and helped her peers grasp the significance of the Broadcom Masters competition.
Along with competing, the students presented projects to the public in D.C. and spent a few days partaking in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) activities, she said. She was proud to have won a team award during the event; and as far as she knew there was only one other student from Virginia.
Jeffrey Steele said he and his wife are very proud of all Hannah has accomplished.
“She’s already exceeded my footsteps,” he said. “I didn’t get to meet the President.”
He said she came up with a good question for her project and went about making the most out of figuring it out.
“The toughest part in a science fair is asking the question,” he said.
Contact Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5556 or email@example.com.