Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Katie Britt is shooting for the stars.
The soon-to-be Lockport High School graduate is the recipient of a four-year, $412,000 scholarship to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. She plans to serve at least her eight years in the Air Force following graduation from the academy.
But Britt’s ultimate goal is the final frontier. She wants to be an astronaut, which influenced her decision to go to school in Colorado Springs.
“The Air Force has the second highest graduation rate of alumni that become astronauts,” Britt said.
The military academy with the highest rate of alumni that join NASA is the U.S. Naval Academy. But Britt said she preferred to fly rather than be out on the water.
Britt is one of about 1,000 Eastern Niagara County students who will graduate from high school this weekend. The ceremonies begin tonight at Starpoint, then continue tomorrow with graduations for Barker and Wilson on Saturday morning. Later on, Lockport students will graduate Saturday afternoon, followed by Royalton-Hartland and Newfane in the evening.
This weekend could be seen as the end of one chapter, but it could also be seen as the start of another. Most of the graduating students will be attending a two- or four-year school in the fall to continue their education, with many bringing in millions in scholarships.
Principal Frank Movalli said it’s every few years Lockport sees a graduate earn a scholarship similar to Britt’s. She was chosen out of 12,000 applicants, Movalli said.
Britt plans to study aerospace engineering but may study linguistics. As for her interest in space, that goes back a few years, Britt’s father Mo said. A chemistry class project on organic molecules in space started the journey.
“I can recall her at 13 she was talking about Earth geology, space geology,” he said. “Some kids want to be a doctor or police officer, she wanted to be an astronaut.”
Shortly thereafter, Britt joined NASA’s Interdisciplinary National Science Project Incorporating Research and Education Experience program, or INSPIRE. The online learning community gives high school students a chance to interact with NASA experts, education specialists and other students through activities and challenges. About 1,000 kids across the country participate.
In addition, the Britt family visited the John Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. She was able to speak with experts there as well.
During her time at Lockport, Britt, 17, played tennis and ran cross country. She was also in the National Honor Society, the Latin club and even trained for a triathlon.
Britt was also honored as the Town of Lockport’s outstanding youth of 2013. She was chosen by the town’s recreation committee over 21 other applicants.
There will also be a group of folks over at Briody Health Care Facility who will be following her career. While volunteering there, Britt had a chance to speak with a number of World War II veterans.
“It was inspiring,” Britt said. “To follow in their footsteps is going to require a lot of hard work and I don’t want to let them down.”
Saturday’s graduation ceremony will include a speaker who has been where Britt is heading. And that’s not just the Air Force, but space as well.
Astronaut William Gregory will be the guest speaker Saturday at Lockport’s graduation at Artpark. He flew in this week, courtesy of Mullane Motors.
Gregory graduated from Lockport Senior High School in 1975 and received a bachelor of science degree in engineering sciences from the Air Force Academy in 1979, a master of science degree in engineering mechanics from Columbia University in 1980 and a master of science degree in management from Troy State in 1984.
Gregory became an astronaut in July 1991 and served as the STS-67 pilot on the seven-person astronomical research mission aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. The crew established a mission duration record of 16 days, 15 hours, 8 minutes and 46 seconds, while completing 262 orbits and traveling nearly 7 million miles.
Britt will have a quick lift off into her Air Force career. She leaves for basic training on Monday. She only found out about her acceptance into the academy on Memorial Day weekend. As a result, Britt had to withdraw from her Air Force ROTC scholarship to attend Penn State.
“It’s been a roller coaster,” she said.
The family is very proud of Katie, Mo Britt said. He did wish though that one family friend was still around to see her attend the academy. Mo Britt said Katie had met Silas R. Molyneaux years ago, but he passed away in October at age 96.
Once a teacher in Barker, Molyneaux was a colonel in the Air Force and one of the founding members of the academy. He helped lay out the infrastructure and develop the curriculum for the school.
The connections don’t stop there. Britt’s brother John is a candidate for the U.S. Naval Academy. And Mo Britt was a U.S. Marine.
For those thinking about applying to the military academies, start the application process early, Britt advised. Britt started applying to the Air Force in July.
And make sure it’s something you want to do, she added. Britt is certainly sure.
“I don’t know what the future has in store for me, but I’ll keep an open mind and try to get where I want to go,” Britt said.GRADUATION CEREMONIES 2013 • STARPOINT: 7 p.m. tonight at the high school, 4363 Mapleton Road, Pendleton. • WILSON: 9 a.m. Saturday at Artpark, Lewiston. • BARKER: 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the high school, 1628 Quaker Road, Barker. • LOCKPORT: 1 p.m. Saturday at Artpark, Lewiston. • ROYALTON-HARTLAND: 7 p.m. Saturday at the high school, 54 State St., Middleport. • NEWFANE: 7 p.m. Saturday at University at Buffalo Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.