Last January, as bushfires devastated much of the eastern seaboard of Australia, there was a litany of side-effects that few noticed amidst the firestorms’ carnage.

One was the cancellation of many major events, including the amazing National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) hosted annually at universities in Brisbane and Canberra during the Christmas school break.

Five Science students from BSSC had been selected to attend the 2020 NYSF. Year 12 student, Haden Kneller, was the only one who attended a site where the program was able to run normally.

Engineering was his first preference and was selected to join with like-minds at the University of Queensland, for what he describes as “an incredible experience”.

“I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into,” Haden admits, “and I don’t want to give too much away, but I would recommend the program to anyone with a passion for STEM.

“The way NYSF approached engineering was nothing like I could have imagined—everything we did was so interesting.”

Like many who attend NYSF, Haden has kept in touch with a number of students he met during his whirlwind immersion into all things engineering.

While many students relish the constant company of others with similar academic passions, Haden found his natural introversion made the social intensity of the program challenging at times.

“It was actually the most social event I have ever been to,” he says. “That made it hard, but it was also really good for me to expand my circle.”

Haden arrived at BSSC at the beginning of Year 11 with a group of friends from Weeroona College. Haden’s older siblings had attended BSSC, so he already had some idea of what to expect.

“I can remember during Step Up just feeling really excited about starting here.”

Now, 18 months down the track, Haden continues to reflect positively about the college—especially the independence and responsibility he has been given for his education.

He admits to feeling “pretty devastated” when he first heard Victoria was heading into another period of remote learning, though he remains confident he will handle it.

“I’m conscious of being less motivated than last time,” he says, “but I think I will be okay because I don’t usually need a lot of individual instruction. It’s more the social stuff I will miss—even though I’m a bit of an introvert.”

But there are up-sides to everything, and one Haden expects to appreciate is the greater freedom to organise his day. His maths teacher also records all classes which means he can even reschedule a maths class if he’s deep into some other subject at the time the class is timetabled.

Although Physics is Haden’s favourite, he says that most of the time he really enjoys all his subjects. Certainly, when it comes to Physics, Roy Preece’s style of teaching works well for him.

“Roy’s forever asking questions—you never know when you’ll be picked—so it keeps everyone really engaged. Roy also does really great demonstrations.”

As well as Physics, Haden is studying Maths Methods, Chemistry, Systems Engineering, and English—the subject he finds the most challenging.

So what is his Hot Study Tip?

“I think number one is probably to stay confident and know that you can do it—especially when you are going into a SAC,” he says. “And write lists so you always keep on track.”

Haden hopes to study Engineering at either Monash or RMIT in 2021 and has a particular interest in Mechatronics, a branch of engineering that focuses on both electrical and mechanical systems and includes robotics, electronics, telecommunications.

Unsurprisingly Elon Musk is someone Haden really admires.

With no plans for a gap year, Haden has already begun applying for scholarships to make the transition to Melbourne easier and ensure he is not a “seriously poor student”.

In the three years before Year 12 Haden worked part time at Woolworths and no doubt his references will ease the way into new jobs to sustain him while he is at uni.

And, for all you foodies out there, Haden is also a keen amateur chef. He says he really enjoys trying out new recipes and rarely cooks the same thing twice (no two-minute noodles for this uni student!).

Meanwhile, the pandemic has been something of a distraction from other world events. Haden has long been appalled—even enraged—by some of the corruption that has been perpetrated here in Australia and more widely across the globe.

“Things that come immediately to mind are the decades of funnelling of money away from the public education system; the water that has been stolen from the Murray Darling water supply and, perhaps under the cover of everyone’s worries about the pandemic, the purchase of military hardware by the Federal Government.”

Haden is an admirer of politicians committed to greater equity. Gough Whitlam’s commitment to free education for everyone and Kevin Rudd’s desire to develop climate change initiatives and a truly effective NBN are just three examples Haden gives of actions he admires.

The pandemic has also brought an opportunity for Haden to watch our politicians under the most incredible pressure.

He has been impressed by Premiers Dan Andrews and Western Australia’s Mark McGowan as they have stepped up and made truly big decisions on behalf of their people.

“I was especially impressed with the way Mark McGowan closed the borders and stopped cruise ships docking in WA,” he says.

On the international level, Haden admires Jacinda Adern’s strong approach to coronavirus control.

While Haden is yet to cast his first vote in an election, when it comes to offering some good advice to his 12-year-old, he does not get tangled in specifics but offers advice any person—politician or otherwise—could benefit from.

“Grow yourself with every opportunity you get—and make sure you go to NYSF!”