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Murphy, White Named Astronaut Scholars
For the first time, two Syracuse University students have been named in one year as Astronaut Scholars. Syracuse is one of two universities nationwide with multiple recipients of the Astronaut Scholarship this year.
Bethany Murphy, a senior environmental engineering major in the College of Engineering and Computer Science and a member of the University’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), and Laurel White, a junior physics major and mathematics minor in the College of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Renée Crown University Honors Program, have been named 2019-20 Scholars by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF).
Founded by the Mercury 7 astronauts, the foundation awards scholarships to students in their junior or senior year who are pursuing studies in science, technology, engineering or mathematics and who plan to pursue research or advance their field upon completion of their final degree. Nominees are selected on their exemplary academic performance, ingenuity and unique aptitude for research.
In addition to a cash award of up to $10,000, the scholarship includes the opportunity to present and represent their institutions at the Scholar Technical Conference; professional mentoring for one year by scholarship alumni, a C-suite executive or an astronaut; the opportunity to participate in a professional development program and foundation events; and membership in the Astronaut Scholar Honor Society.
Murphy and White will attend the ASF Innovators Gala, featuring the Neil Armstrong Award of Excellence, Aug. 22-24 in Washington, D.C. They will be recognized for their achievements and receive their awards on stage.
Murphy and White were both excited to learn of their selection as Astronaut Scholars. “I was honored to hear that I was selected,” Murphy says. “I think it is pretty neat to be recognized as a STEM student under that title because, to me, astronauts are a symbol of scientific advancement.”
“I was thrilled to find out that I would be receiving the award,” says White. “I’m very passionate about my research and very proud to have it recognized in this way.”
Murphy is also the recipient of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship, a Udall Scholarship and a 2019-20 Remembrance Scholarship. This summer, she is interning with NOAA at its Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, studying the best way to quantify snow water equivalent in snow pack. She is analyzing data from a relatively new NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory mission—the Airborne Snow Observatory—which utilizes imaging spectrometry and LIDAR to take snow measurements over the entire extent of a watershed. “Gaining a better understanding of snow water equivalent allows for better water supply modeling, which is critical for effective and sustainable water resources management,” she says.
Murphy will present this research at the NOAA Hollings Conference and at the Astronaut Scholars Technical Conference, later this summer. “The fact that my current research with NOAA involves collaboration with NASA demonstrates that I will find myself interacting with professionals outside the realm of environmental engineering throughout my career,” she says. “The Astronaut Scholarship gives me the chance to network with individuals working in a wide variety of STEM disciplines, which I see as a benefit.”
White has worked with the Gravitational Wave Group in Syracuse’s Department of Physics for the past two years under the mentorship of Peter Saulson, the Martin A. Pomerantz ’37 Professor of Physics, and Duncan Brown, the Charles Brightman Endowed Professor of Physics. She is continuing that research with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Lab at the California Institute of Technology this summer.
“My work is mostly in data analysis towards the effort to detect and interpret gravitational-wave signals from astrophysical objects like black holes and neutron stars,” White says. “The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation will help me connect with fellow researchers around the country.”
Murphy and White both have clear goals for their path beyond Syracuse University. They have already been connected with mentors who will help them reach those goals.
Murphy plans to commission into the U.S. Army and combine her military and environmental engineering education to improve the Army’s sustainability in regards to water resources management.
“The Astronaut Foundation has already taken the time to review my career goals and aspirations, and has matched me with a mentor who they feel can help me get there,” says Murphy. “My assigned mentor has an engineering background and 24 years of experience in the Marine Corps. I’m excited to see the ways in which I can leverage this mentorship relationship and the other resources that the Astronaut Foundation provides to help me grow and achieve my goals.”
After graduation from Syracuse, White plans to pursue a Ph.D. in physics/astrophysics and continue her research in gravitational waves. Her goal is to work as a staff scientist in an astrophysics lab. She has been connected with former astronaut Thomas Jones, a veteran of four space shuttle flights. He will advise White on academic and career choices.
As a university partner of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, Syracuse University can nominate two students for the Astronaut Scholarship each year. Interested students should contact the Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising (CFSA) for information on the nomination process (firstname.lastname@example.org; 315.443.2759). More information on the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation can be found at astronautscholarship.org/.