Materials science and engineering major named an Astronaut Scholar

Sean Yoder
September 05, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Katelyn Kirchner, a senior from Downingtown, earned a prestigious Astronaut Scholarship earlier this year.

Each year, the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation recognizes more than 50 outstanding students from the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Kirchner, a materials science and engineering major, said she was shocked when she learned in May she had earned the competitive scholarship.

Katelyn Kirchner headshot

Katelyn Kirchner

IMAGE: Submitted Photo

“This was not something I reasonably expected, and it reminded me yet again how lucky I am to be at Penn State,” she said. “It’s the research experiences, mentors and personal advocates who gave me the confidence to apply in the first place.”

Kirchner studies under John C. Mauro, professor of materials science and engineering, and she computationally models fluctuations in glass structure as part of her undergraduate research. She said she intends to remain at Penn State and pursue a doctorate in materials science and engineering and continue her work with Mauro.

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) was established in 1984 by the six members of the original Mercury 7 astronauts: Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Walter Schirra, Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton; as well as Betty Grissom, widow of the late Virgil “Gus” Grissom; William Douglas, Project Mercury flight surgeon; and Henri Landwirth, businessman and friend of the Mercury 7.

The Mercury 7 are America’s first astronauts, picked from the ranks of the top-performing military aviators in the late 1950s, who themselves have academic roots in the STEM fields. ASF continued to grow its support over the years from astronauts from the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle programs, according to the ASF website.

Katelyn Kirchner poses with parents while holding plaque

Katelyn Kirchner, center, poses with her parents Theresa and Robert Kirchner at the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Innovator's Gala in Washington D.C., this past August.

IMAGE: Submitted Photo

The University can only nominate up to two applicants for the award, so students first have to pass through an internal Penn State selection process facilitated by the University Fellowships Office. Students must be U.S. citizens, full-time sophomores or juniors with one to two years of study remaining, have completed at least two years of full-time study at Penn State, and be majoring in a STEM field with the intention of pursuing a career in research.

ASF also picks its scholarship candidates based on proof of leadership, imagination and exceptional performance in their respective fields.

Kirchner said getting involved in research as an undergraduate was critical to her academic success and suggested that students just starting their college careers keep their eyes open for undergraduate research opportunities.

“Penn State has more research opportunities than you may think, and you never know where you will find your passion,” she said.

The University Fellowships Office is part of the Penn State Office of Undergraduate Education, the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at

Last Updated September 05, 2019