A Roye-Williams Elementary School fifth grader is one of 11 children from across the country who recently met with President Barack Obama as the first group of Kid Science Advisors to the president.
"He was a lot taller in person, a lot cooler in person," Khristian Ward, 10, who lives with his family on Aberdeen Proving Ground, said of his experience of going to the White House and meeting the president Oct 21.
Khristian, who participates in multiple STEM programs for children in Harford County, Baltimore and the Washington, D,C. region, is one of about 2,500 children who applied to the White House to be a Kid Science Advisor and submitted their ideas for STEM-related projects.
"I wanted to invent an microchip that helps gets rid of soldiers' PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) when they come home from war," Khristian said during an interview at his school last Friday. The chip would be implanted in a soldier's brain, he explained.
He also submitted an idea for lighter body armor so soldiers can avoid back problems during wartime, he said.
His father, Eric, is retired from the Army. He was deployed to Iraq in 2004 and 2008 and still deals with PTSD, according to his wife, Karen.
"Every now and then, he has his moments," Karen Ward said during an interview Saturday.
She and her husband now work as civilian Department of Defense contractors in the personnel office at APG.
"I want to help him and other soldiers like my dad," Khristian said.
Khristian was born in Germany when his father was stationed there and has been a student at Roye-Williams since kindergarten.
There are about 550 students at Roye-Williams, which is between Aberdeen and Havre de Grace, in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. Kimberly Kron, the school's assistant principal, noted that about 70 percent of the student population comes from military or civilian DOD personnel families.
Roye-Williams offers the after-school program, Engineering is Elementary, to students with funding support from the Defense Department. Khristian participates in EIE, which offers STEM programs, as well as a Lego robotics program, according to Kron.
Khristian takes part in EIE two days a week. He said he invents traps for catching "dangerous poisonous toads."
"I think it's really important," Khristian said of studying STEM-related subjects. "Because you can help build helpful and good stuff for everybody and anything."
Khristian said being a "space engineer," working on rockets, is his dream job. He planned to be an astronaut for Halloween.
Ward said she was surprised Khristian submitted an idea geared toward military science, considering his interest in aerospace. She suspects it is because of his father's experience with PTSD as well as hearing stories from his friends about its impact on other Army families.
"It was a hopeful idea on his part," she said.
The Kid Science Advisor campaign came about after Jacob Leggette, 9, of Baltimore, asked Obama during the White House Science Fair in the spring if he had any youth science advisors.
The president has a number of adults who advise him on science and technology matters, but no children until recently. Obama directed John Holdren, his science advisor, to get input from children around the country about their priorities regarding STEM matters, according to a news release from the White House.
That initiative led to the Kid Science Advisor campaign. Holdren and Megan Smith, chief technology officer, hosted a conference call with applicants Oct. 20, and 11 of those applicants visited the White House the next day.
Khristian was accompanied by his mother. He is one of three Maryland children invited to the White House, along with Jacob Leggette and his younger sister, Alexis. They were part of a group that included elementary, middle and high school students, according to the news release.
In addition to the president, the children and their parents met with Holdren, Charles Bolden, the administrator of NASA, France Cordova, director of the National Science Foundation, and Mark and Scott Kelly, former astronauts, according to the release.
Karen Ward called the visit an "overwhelming experience."
Khristian said in his interview that, if he could ask a scientist a question, he would ask, "Have they ever built a microchip that removes other people's behaviors when they come back from war?"
His mother noted Khristian's primary interest is space exploration. He has spent each Saturday during the past four years at the Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy, or SEMAA, at Morgan State University in Baltimore. The program, which is free, is supported by NASA.
Khristian participates in STEM programs offered to children through the Army Education Outreach Program, including Camp Invention and GEMS – Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science – both summer programs. He also visits the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt once a month to launch model rockets, and he has participated in additional youth programs offered at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and through the Smithsonian, according to his mother.
She said Noah, Khristian's younger brother, participates in some of the same programs, such as Camp Invention. He also applied to be a presidential Kid Science Advisor.
Ward said another date for the Kid Science Advisors to meet has not been established yet, considering the logistics of getting children from all over their country to the White House and that Obama has barely three months left in office. The presidential staff has remained in touch with the children, though.
Ward said Khristian's father supports his son's microchip idea.
"He believed in it," Ward said. "We all do."