Mikayla Nelson is successful partly because she shows up.
“She shows up and she keeps showing up and putting in the time,” said Will James Middle School instructor Pat Kenney, who was Nelson’s science teacher while she was there.
On Sunday, Nelson, now a freshman at Central High, will show up again, this time to the White House where she’ll meet President Barack Obama.
She found out Wednesday morning.
“I cried,” she said, smiling. “It really hasn’t set in.”
The trip is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, which hosts the National Science Bowl each spring in Washington, D.C. Nelson has attended twice.
As a science student, Nelson started drawing attention early. In sixth grade, she built a 12-inch Popsicle stick bridge that held 606.5 pounds, still the standing record at Will James. It probably could have held more, but the judges ran out of weights.
Last year she was team captain of the Will James Middle School squad that competed in the National Science Bowl. She’s also comfortably talked mechanical engineering with Frank Borman, the first man to circle the moon, and she designed her own super-light mini race car, something else that won her and her peers attention at the National Science Bowl in April.
“The car got people talking,” Kenney said.
And it got their team interviewed during the competition on the Discovery Channel.
When Nelson finished at Will James, she was the recipient of the Principal’s Leadership Award.
She’s also driven. Despite having not nearly enough money for tuition, she decided to attend Central High.
She worked three jobs during the summer and currently works at Central Hobby in Billings. When others found out she wanted to attend Central, a number of community members helped with donations and gifts and the school — like it does with other lower-income students — gives her discounted tuition.
Contact Rob Rogers at email@example.com or 657-1231.