Updated: Sep 26
By Daniel Rossi
What is the Conrad Challenge?
The Conrad Challenge is a science and technology contest with a clear goal of developing the next generation of businesspeople who will transform the world. Applying science, technology, and creativity to challenges with a major impact is a great way for students between the ages of 13 and 18 to start their own businesses and meet new people. The kids learn to master collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication , which at the end will result in the Challenge’s step-by-step instructions and the assistance of business professionals. With the experiences offered by this challenge, it helps these young kids take on life as successful adults. The competition used to take place at the Kennedy Space Center; however, it has since moved to the Houston Space Center.
The Conrad Challenge is inspired by astronaut Pete Conrad, who was part of the famous Apollo 12 mission. In the early years of Pete’s life, he suffered from dyslexia, which led to many failures when it came to staying in school. Even though Pete struggled, he found a way to overcome his challenges, as he graduated from high school and college. From there, Pete transitioned his career into the military, where he made it as a Navy captain, becoming experienced in the field as a military aviator. All his hard work put him in a position where he led a NASA team to the moon in Apollo 12. Unfortunately, Pete Conrad died from a motorcycle accident on July 8th, 1999. His wife Nancy, who was a teacher, went on to start the Conrad Foundation in order to inspire high school students worldwide to apply science, technology, engineering, and math, to develop ideas and answers to real-world challenges.
Columbus and the Conrad Challenge
For the past six years, Columbus has participated in this challenge as a school each year. Recently gaining momentum from the previous year, Columbus made the push to reach the top 950 teams worldwide. The top 25 is where the top 5 speakers from each category are chosen to make their case to a panel of business, government, and military officials. Columbus has had success throughout the years, coming close to being selected as the best business pitch out of the five presenters. One is chosen as the first place winner and best business pitch.
Engineering teacher, Mr. Armando Rodriguez, who has been moderating the STEM Club and teaching engineering courses for six years at CCHS, is optimistic that this year’s team will be able to qualify. He said, “Once you make it there, who cares whether you win,” demonstrating how much it matters to these students to even have the chance to qualify.
Two past Columbus alumni who participated in the Conrad Challenge and won recently returned to Columbus to assist the students in getting ready for what lies ahead. Alexander Cordero, Class of 2018, and Hans Rueckschnat, Class of 2017, returned to give their insights. They discussed the competition’s rules with the students and their tactics in how they won the competition back in 2017. Additionally, they highlighted how drastically different the competition is now compared to then.
According to Mr. Rueckschant, “If they want to win, they’ll work, and if they don’t want to win, they just won’t do it.” This puts the onus on the students to inspire themselves in which the students have no limits to their work ethic and can achieve everything they set their minds to. Hopefully, these youngsters will make the most of the resources provided to them as they tackle what lies ahead.