The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation permits only a handful of institutions in the country, based on the strength of their programs in STEM, to nominate candidates for the prestigious Astronaut Scholarship. Texas A&M is one of the few institutions allowed to nominate sophomore or junior STEM majors for this award. Astronaut Scholars become one of a very select group of outstanding students who have demonstrated not only outstanding academic talent, but also incredible creative ability and productivity in research, indicating that they have the potential to become the next generation of leaders pushing the boundaries of science and technology. Texas A&M is proud this year to be nominating three students for the 2015 Astronaut Scholarship competition! Meet the second of our 2015 nominees!
How outstanding do you have to be to become an Astronaut Scholar nominee? When it comes to research creativity and productivity, 2015 TAMU Nominee Kirstin Maulding may have broken the mold. Maulding is in the University Honors and College of Science Honors Programs, majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology with minors in Genetics and Neuroscience from Spring Branch, Texas. She will graduate with a BS in Molecular and Cell Biology in Spring 2016.
Maulding began her interest in biological research as early as the summer between her junior and senior year in high school, becoming a summer intern with National Academy member Dr. James Hudspeth to study sensory neurobiology. Her fascination with the field led her to persuade Dr. Bruce Riley to let her join his research group the summer before her freshman year at Texas A&M, a decision he categorizes as “one of the best” he has made in the past 20 years. Maulding’s exceptional intellectual abilities, independence and drive led her to take over sole ownership of her research project as an incoming freshman when the graduate student mentor she was working with over the summer pulled back to write and defend his thesis. As a freshman Maulding’s incredible scientific maturity and capability resulted in her being given free rein to design key experiments, execute them on her own and analyze the results. She has presented her award-winning work at a departmental poster session and Student Research Week. Maulding’s work progressed so swiftly given her dedication to the project, that she amassed enough data for a first author publication in a peer-reviewed journal by the end of her freshman year! This made her a published author in her sophomore year.
Maulding’s talents are not limited to the bench, as her perfect 4.0 GPR demonstrates. In fact, even among the top students at Texas A&M she shines. Her rigorous class schedule boasts multiple courses a level or two above that of her classification. Within those classes competing with high power pre-med students Maulding easily stands out as the top student, although she is frequently the youngest.
Maulding’s passion for research and its potential to solve problems in society has led her to the realization that she also wants to become a mentor and advocate for student involvement in research. To that end, she is submitting an application to become an Undergraduate Research Ambassador in order to share her experiences with others and inspire them to participate in research activities.
Maulding’s long-term goals include studying the underlying basis of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, a societal problem that will increase dramatically with the “graying” of American society. Maulding hopes that insights she uncovers in her investigation of nervous system development and function will hold the clues that reveal possible treatments for these intractable diseases.