The University of Rochester was recently selected as one of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation's (ASF) educational partners, providing undergraduate students with the opportunity to be nominated for one of the 25 scholarships given by the foundation each year. Rochester, along with six other institutions, was chosen from a national pool of 17 schools. According to the ASF, to be selected into the program institutions must offer doctoral degrees, demonstrate a commitment to undergraduate and graduate research programs, and have a strong history of developing future professional and academic scientists and researchers.
The University's selection was made possible through the nomination of Rochester alumnus and ASF member Edward Gibson '59. Gibson, who went on to receive a doctoral degree from the California Institute of Technology, joined NASA in 1965 as an astronaut and scientist. Gibson was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame for his participation in the 1973 Skylab-4 space flight, where he and his teammates set an American record for space travel with 84 days in orbit. In his nomination letter, Gibson recalled his visit to Rochester as a high school senior and his interactions with the dean of admissions who "eyed my high school record (not stellar) ... then made the decision to give me a chance ... only a school with heart, as well as high standards would have enabled this..."
Gibson, who received an honorary doctorate of science from Rochester in 1974, says that his "academic growth really happened" at the University, where he "flourished because of the human approach of his professors."
"This opportunity for our undergraduates would not have been possible had Dr. Gibson not nominated us to become one of a select group of research universities eligible to recommend students for this prestigious scholarship," says Paul Slattery, dean of research at Rochester. "We are very grateful to Dr. Gibson for his support."
As a member institution in the ASF program, Rochester will be able to nominate two students each year for one $10,000 scholarship. Qualified students must have completed two years of undergraduate study and have expressed a strong interest in conducting research.
"A key component of Rochester's application to become one of the universities eligible for these scholarships was our emphasis on creating research opportunities for our undergraduate students," says Steven Manly, a physics professor and the director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, which promotes programs, including the Research and Innovation Grants, the Barth-Crapsey Undergraduate Research Awards, and other opportunities.
The ASF was created in 1984 by six Mercury astronauts with the mission of "aid[ing] the United States in retaining its world leadership in science and technology by providing scholarships for college students." The foundation has awarded more than $3 million in scholarships to more than 200 students nationwide. Scholars are invited to the annual U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame induction in Florida, as well as special programs and luncheons throughout the year, allowing scholars to meet and build relationships with current and former astronauts.
Beth Higdon, communications manager for ASF, says these interactions offer many benefits. "Not everyone gets the chance to meet the brave men and women who've traveled into the great unknown," Higdon explains. "Meeting and interacting with space legends is a huge inspiration for our scholars; seeing those who have made their dreams a reality encourages scholars to aspire to be as great."