Kristi Henderson
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Students receive prestigious astronaut scholarship

Tue, 09/29/2015

LAWRENCE — Two outstanding seniors are the first students at the University of Kansas to be named as the university’s recipients of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation's Astronaut Scholarship.

The recognition comes with a $10,000 scholarship for each recipient: Jennifer Stern, a senior from Lawrence majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology, and Jessica van Loben Sels, a senior from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who is majoring in microbiology.

The six surviving members of the Mercury 7 mission founded the ASF and the Astronaut Scholarship in 1984 as a means to encourage students to pursue scientific endeavors to keep the U.S. on the leading edge of technology. Astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle programs have joined the ASF, which has awarded $4 million in scholarships to more than 370 of the nation’s top scholars.

The ASF Board of Directors selected KU to join the program based upon the excellence of the university's science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) academic programs for undergraduates and the strong research capabilities and opportunities for undergraduate students. Admission into the scholarship program is highly competitive, and only the top research universities in the country are chosen to participate.

With the support of the ASF and the Office of the Provost, up to two KU undergraduate students will be selected to receive a $10,000 scholarship during their junior or senior year. Nominations were sought from faculty members in all STEM disciplines for students with exceptional academic records and considerable research experience. A committee coordinated by the University Honors Program, which included KU professor of physics and former astronaut Steven Hawley, selected the university’s first four candidates for the award. The ASF board selected Stern and van Loben Sels as KU’s scholarship recipients.

Nominations for the next cycle will be due at the start of the spring semester. For more information, contact Anne Wallen in the University Honors Program, or 785-864-4225.

More information on the students is below:

Jennifer Stern is the daughter of George and Joan Stern of Lawrence and is a graduate of Free State High School. She is majoring in ecology & evolutionary biology. She conducted original research on climate change with Professor Joy Ward in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, and on ichthyology with Assistant Professor William Leo Smith, also in ecology & evolutionary biology and assistant curator at the Biodiversity Institute. She is a member of the University Honors Program and the 2014 University Scholars Program and head peer leader for the Peer Led Undergraduate Supplements in Biology program. Stern was recently named a 2015 Udall Scholar. She was nominated by Ward and Smith.


Jessica van Loben Sels is the daughter of James and Monique van Loben Sels of Albuquerque and is a graduate of St. Pius X High School. She is a microbiology major and works in the lab of Associate Professor David Davido, researching the herpes simplex virus. She is a member of the University Honors Program and the 2014 University Scholars Program, and she is a recipient of the K-INBRE research fellowship in 2014 and 2015. Van Loben Sels was recently named a 2015 Goldwater Scholar. She was nominated by Davido and Associate Professor Robert Ward in the Department of Molecular Biosciences.

KU in the news
According to a 2016 @KUbschool study, baggage fees are not entirely bad for passengers: They have contributed to fe…

One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
5th nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets: Colleges," Military Times
KU Today