Two UCF Honors Scholars, Christopher Clifford and Zoe Barbeau, have been awarded the Astronaut Scholarship for 2019. The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, created in 1984 by Mercury 7 astronauts, recognizes talented STEM students in their junior or senior year of college who intend to pursue research or advance their field after graduation. Awards are up to $10,000. Since 1986, 37 UCF students have received the prestigious award.
This year, 52 scholarships were awarded to students from 38 different universities across the United States. The 2019 Astronaut Scholar Class will be recognized on August 24 at the Innovators Gala, held in Washington, D.C.
Clifford, a junior studying electrical engineering, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 13 and has since made it part of his mission to help others like him, serving as vice president of the T1@UCF club on campus and conducting research on the disease at Mayo Clinic Rochester with Dr. Quinn Peterson and the AdventHealth Translational Research Institute for Diabetes and Metabolism under Dr. Anna Casu. During his first two years of college, he was a member of UCF’s Interventional Robotics Laboratory, working with biomedical engineering Associate Professor Sam Song on tactile displays to enhance group coordination.
Clifford was previously named a Burnett Research Scholar, Integrated Learning Scholar, and Burr & Forman scholarship recipient. He said being named an Astronaut Scholar “came as a shock.”
“I am still taken aback,” he said. “All of these generous programs have enabled me to pursue research early in my undergraduate studies, which will benefit me when applying to graduate school. Most importantly, I have connected with mentors, even outside my discipline, through the Honors College that have provided me guidance and support when I needed it most.”
His future goals include pursuing a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering while continuing to search for a cure to diabetes. The Astronaut Scholarship has given him the confidence and resources to pursue those goals.
“I hope my experiences in undergrad will help me discern the best way I can apply myself for the benefit of diabetics and their families,” he said. “There are brilliant engineers developing short-term solutions to diabetes such as insulin pumps, as well as developmental biologists persuading stem cells to differentiate into the cells destroyed by Type 1 diabetes – my job right now is to find where I fit in all of this.”
Barbeau, a senior studying mathematics and engineering and a Walker STEM scholarship recipient, said receiving the Astronaut Scholarship validates her focus on research and academics. She started her undergraduate research during her sophomore year through the Burnett Research Scholars program under the mentorship of mechanical engineering Associate Professor Nina Orlovskaya, studying solid oxide fuel cells, which convert energy into electricity more efficiently and cost-effectively—and with less harmful emissions—than current solutions.
She’s done additional research on stellar winds through UCF’s Research and Mentoring Program (RAMP), and, at the Soft Materials Research Center Research Experience for Undergraduates at the University of Colorado-Boulder last year, she studied how PGE2, a naturally-occurring chemical compound, might be useful in potential osteoporosis therapies. She currently interns at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility in California, which supports fusion energy research.
Barbeau said receiving the Astronaut Scholarship shows that she “has potential as a future leader in STEM” and has boosted her confidence as she prepares for graduate school. She plans to get a Ph.D. in applied mathematics or mechanical engineering, and then pursue a career as a Department of Energy researcher studying renewable energy.
“Receiving the Astronaut Scholarship gives me a great platform for networking towards a future career because of the mentoring and community the Astronaut Foundation provides for its scholars,” she said.
If you are a student interested in learning more about the Astronaut Scholarship or one of the many other STEM-related scholarships available, please contact Morgan Bauer, director of the Office of Prestigious Awards, at Morgan.Bauer@ucf.edu. Astronaut Scholarship nominees should be U.S. citizens and must be in their sophomore or junior year. Candidates must be nominated by faculty members.
Written for the Burnett Honors College