Anne Wallen
Office of Fellowships

KU announces nominees for prestigious astronaut scholarship

Thu, 05/28/2015

LAWRENCE — Four outstanding University of Kansas undergraduates are the first nominees representing the university in the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Astronaut Scholarship program.

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.

“KU’s nominees are among an elite group of science, math and engineering students in the nation and the world,” said Jeffrey S. Vitter, provost and executive vice chancellor. “The engaged learning and research opportunities available to our students have helped create an exceptional environment where KU students can thrive.  I’m proud of their accomplishments thus far, and I know KU will continue to see them do amazing work.”

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. This summer the ASF will announce the winners of the scholarship, which will be presented at a special ceremony on campus in the coming academic year by a member of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

The four students:

  • David Gier, senior from Overland Park
  • Amanda House, junior from Overland Park, majoring in computer science
  • Jennifer Stern, senior from Lawrence, majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology
  • Jessica van Loben Sels, senior from Albuquerque, New Mexico, majoring in microbiology

More information on each of the students is below.

David Gier is the son of Rick and Cindy Gier of Overland Park and is a graduate of St. Thomas Aquinas High School. He is triple-majoring in physics, interdisciplinary computing and mathematics. He is currently working with Professor Joaquin Drut of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill after participating in a Computational Astronomy and Physics Research Experience for Undergraduates in summer 2014. A member of the University Honors Program and the 2013 University Scholars Program, he plans a career in the field of computational cosmology. He was nominated by nominated by Professor Phil Baringer and Professor Alice Bean in the Department of Physics & Astronomy.

Amanda House is the daughter of Shawn and Rhonda House of Overland Park and attended Blue Valley Northwest High School before leaving early to earn the GED and enroll directly at KU. She is majoring in computer science and has conducted research with Professor Arvin Agah in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and associate dean for research and graduate programs in the School of Engineering. House is a member of the University Honors Program and the 2015 University Scholars Program. She was nominated by Agah and Professor David Besson in physics and astronomy.

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 Associate 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 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.

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