Two Penn State juniors nominated for Astronaut Scholarship

Sean Yoder
March 19, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State has nominated two juniors for the 2021 Astronaut Scholarship, which awards $15,000 to undergraduates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields who intend to pursue a career in research.

This year’s nominees are Owen Chase, of Wexford, Pennsylvania, majoring in astronomy and astrophysics and statics; and Katie Kohlman, of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, a meteorology and atmospheric science major and marine science minor.

The award is sponsored by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF), established in 1984 by 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 Virgil “Gus” Grissom; William Douglas, Project Mercury flight surgeon; and Henri Landwirth, businessman and friend of the Mercury 7.

Owen Chase

Chase said he came college “itching” to do research, and once at Penn State his undergraduate research experiences reaffirmed his academic and professional goals.

“I started in sophomore year,” Chase said. “It makes me feel really empowered to be able to contribute to the larger project that is academia. It has molded my ideas of what I want to study in the future.”

Chase’s undergraduate research centers around a problem in observational cosmology called the Hubble tension, he said. There are currently various methods of measuring the expansion rate of the universe (known as Hubble’s constant, or H0, pronounced "H-not").

“Our work seeks to use a new measurement technique to independently measure H0,” Chase said.

head-and-shoulders photograph of Owen Chase

Owen Chase is a Penn State junior majoring in astronomy and astrophysics and statistics.

IMAGE: Provided

He said earning the award would help validate the hard work he has done so far and give him confidence as he enters the graduate school application process. Though Chase has experienced measurable success, he said it can still be easy to self-doubt.

“I think it is easy in academia to get caught up comparing oneself to others and being very harsh on oneself,” he said. “This award will first and foremost give me something that I can point myself to in times of self-disappointment and tell myself that I'm alright and I am doing good work, and especially enough work.”

Chase’s future plans include attending graduate school for astrophysics and expanding his observational training to include theoretical research getting into the theory side. He said he also wants to incorporate data science methods into his work. After earning a doctorate, Chase plans to consider academia and becoming a researcher and possibly a professor at a university. However, he said, there are many exciting opportunities and options he would consider.

Katie Kohlman

Kohlman is currently researching marine heat waves (MHWs) in the northeastern Pacific Ocean, anomalous sea surface temperatures that have profound impacts on marine life and society.

“My research is analyzing these anomalous events and understanding the atmospheric connections,” Kohlman said. “Currently, my research shows that these MHWs are not new, yet they are increasing due to anthropogenic climate change and connect to tropical climate processes.”

The Penn State junior said her undergraduate research has impacted her in many ways, helping her learn how to design and start her own research project, identify a dynamically interesting story and communicate the results.

head-and-shoulders photo of Katie Kohlman

Katie Kohlman is a Penn State junior majoring in meteorology and atmospheric science and minoring in marine science.

IMAGE: Provided

“During the pandemic, I was lucky enough to have the chance to give oral and poster presentations about my work,” Kohlman said. “Through these presentations, I made invaluable connections with other scientists and they have helped to push my research in ways I could not have thought of alone.”

She said it would be an honor to be recognized with an award such as the Astronaut Scholarship after countless hours of bettering her understanding of science and striving to achieve her goals.

“It certainly has not been easy in the times that we are in and the Astronaut Scholarship would be an absolutely incredible financial relief and amazing recognition,” Kohlman said.

Kohlman plans to attend graduate school to increase her understanding of air-sea interactions and climate dynamics and hopes to become an expert in the field. Her goal, she said, is to have a genuine understanding of oceanic and atmospheric science and to translate it to the world.

More about the Astronaut Scholarship; how to apply

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 and professional 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.

The University can nominate up to two applicants for the award, so students must first pass through an internal Penn State selection process facilitated by the office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Mentoring. 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. The University picks its nominees based on proof of creativity and innovation, initiative and exceptional performance in their respective fields.

Students interested in applying to the scholarship should contact Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Mentoring to learn more about the scholarship program, verify that they meet the eligibility criteria and begin the application process. Students can contact the office at urfm@psu.edu. More information also can be found at urfm.psu.edu.

Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Mentoring 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 undergrad.psu.edu.

Last Updated March 19, 2021