Three A&T Students Selected for Astronaut Scholarship, Make HBCU History

01/23/2024 College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, College of Engineering, College of Science and Technology, Honors College

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (Jan. 23, 2024) – Three North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University undergraduate students have been selected as 2023 Astronaut Scholars, an elite scholarship awarded annually to the nation’s most academically accomplished students pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degrees.

N.C. A&T is the first historically Black university (HBCU) to have more than one Astronaut Scholarship available in an application cycle.

Astronaut Scholarship Foundation logoKristi Barnes, Maya Odom and Breyana Robinson will each receive up to $15,000 for eligible educational expenses and lifelong engagement with astronauts, executives, STEM researchers and innovators, Astronaut Scholar alumni and the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF), the nonprofit founded in 1984 by surviving members of the Mercury 7 crew. They also received an all-expense paid trip to the ASF Innovator’s Week & Gala in Orlando, Florida, in August 2023 to present their research at a technical conference.

Barnes, Odom and Robinson – all students in the university’s Honors College – will be publicly recognized by astronaut and retired Air Force Col. Frederick Drew Gregory during special campus presentation and lecture Thursday, Jan. 25, at 6 p.m. in Harrison Auditorium.

Fred GregoryGregory was chosen as a member of the first class of Space Shuttle astronauts in 1978. He became the first American with an African lineage to pilot a spacecraft, the orbiter Challenger on mission STS-51B, in 1985.

The event is free and open to the public. A clear bag policy remains in effect at the auditorium: bag(s) must be 12” x 6” x 12” or smaller, and made of clear plastic, vinyl or PVC. Non-approved bags are not permitted.

“Kristi, Maya and Breyana’s achievements are shining examples of what Aggies Do,” said Tonya Smith-Jackson, Ph.D., provost and executive vice chancellor of Academic Affairs. “Each is poised to improve mankind through their intelligence and service to others, and I know they will add great value to their new Astronaut Scholarship Foundation community.”

Lenovo pledged support in fall 2022 for A&T to have a second scholarship slot, pending the strength of the campus’ applicant pool, and enabled the university to make history as the first HBCU to have more than one Astronaut Scholarship available in an application cycle.

Dr. Bernard Harris and the HBCU Astronaut Group made A&T’s first scholarship slot possible in 2019.

Based on the outstanding merit demonstrated in A&T’s application pool, a third Aggie 2023 Astronaut Scholarship was enabled by ASF’s floating scholarship award mechanism, then funded by the HBCU Astronaut Group.

In 2023, 68 Astronaut Scholars from across the country were selected from 46 nominating institutions. Only two other institutions later had three 2023 Astronaut Scholarship recipients: the University of Central Florida and Purdue University.

“I am thrilled to celebrate Kristi, Maya, and Breyana’s individual and collective achievements in being selected for the Astronaut Scholarship in this cycle,” said Honors College Dean Margaret Kanipes. “Their remarkable accomplishments exemplify the boundless potential of all Aggies, not just Honors Aggies, and inspire us all to reach for the stars.”

Barnes, a graduating senior from Columbia, Maryland, who was a NASA Goddard intern in high school, is studying chemical engineering with an applied mathematics minor. She earned a cumulative 4.0 GPA and secured an internship with Abbott before completing her first semester. In July 2021, she earned the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation HBCU National Racial Equity Initiative Scholarship to pursue her interest in applying her studies to better treat diabetes and other diseases that disproportionately affect Black populations. She co-authored the study “Do masks matter? A study on the effectiveness and the adherence to mask mandates in stores in Greensboro, North Carolina” in April 2022, completed a second internship with Abbott in summer 2022 and interned with Eli Lilly in summer 2023. A member of the University Choir and treasurer of the Society of Women Engineers, she was one of A&T’s Astronaut Scholarship candidates last year.

“I want to play an active role in disease prevention by engineering systems that transform medicine, nutrition, and diagnostics, and I want to end Type 2 diabetes because it runs in my family,” she said. “I also plan to blend my spirit of service with my STEM degree to help the progression of diversity in the STEM workforce.”

Odom, a graduating senior from Crofton, Maryland, is a Cheatham-White Scholar studying computer engineering. In fall 2021, Odom was selected as a recipient of the inaugural Diverse Internship from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and wrote a paper on cloud technology. In summer 2022, she served as a Disney Streaming Software Engineering intern and completed an internship with Amazon in summer 2023 after studying in Cyprus. She is an endorsed applicant for the 2024-25 Fulbright Program grant.

“I witnessed the aftermath of the earthquake in Turkey and was reminded of how important it is for me to create change that will ensure the equitable distribution of technology, resources, and infrastructure,” she said. “With technology, we can also make connections that can bring the world together to create a better future, such as a world where a female engineer is the norm and not an oddity.”

Robinson, a third-year student from Garland, Texas, is a Dowdy Scholar studying laboratory animal science with a minor in chemistry. Robinson earned her Veterinary Assisting Certification through the Texas Veterinary Medicine Association in high school, and is a Diversity In Veterinary Medicine Coalition Scholar. She interned at the University of Utah in summer 2022 and at Boehringer Ingelheim in Ridgefield, Connecticut in summer 2023; she was also endorsed for the 2023 Goldwater Scholarship.

“I believe that research is the key to our future, and I am committed to working toward a future where African Americans are more represented within the animal science and the research industries,” she said.

Created in 1984, ASF awarded its first seven scholarships in honor of its founding members, the Mercury 7 Astronauts. Over the past 39 years, more than $8.3 million has been awarded to nearly 800 students.

We are excited to support Kristi, Maya, Breyana, and the rest of the 2023 Class of Astronaut Scholars in their endeavors and cannot wait to witness their achievements as the game-changers of tomorrow,” said Caroline Schumacher, ASF’s president and CEO.

Barnes, Odom, and Robinson were endorsed to apply for the 2023 Astronaut Scholarship through NCAT Extraordinary Opportunities (NCAT EO) after campus review. Their selection makes each of them one of 19 people from A&T who have received the Astronaut Scholarship, bringing the total number of awards and renewals to 21 since A&T became the first HBCU to be an ASF Partnering Institution in 1994.

“I am honored to work with astounding Aggies such as Kristi, Maya, and Breyana, as well as all those who sought endorsement for the Astronaut Scholarship,” said Alsace-Lorraine Gallop, A&T’s national scholarships and fellowships coordinator and Fulbright Program Adviser. “They have dedicated themselves not only to excellence in STEM innovation or STEM research, but have also made notable and sustained contributions to the campus and East Greensboro communities as they seek to empower marginalized groups and improve our world.”

Second- and third-year undergraduates in all eligible majors from the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, the College of Engineering, and the College of Science and Technology are urged to attend an information session Friday, Jan. 26, at 12:30 p.m. in Student Center Room 342.

Students and faculty should email Gallop at acgallop@ncat.edu before Feb. 5 to learn more about the required endorsement application process for the 2024 Astronaut Scholarship in advance of the 5 p.m. ET Tuesday, Feb. 27, campus deadline.

Media Contact Information: jtorok@ncat.edu

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