By Macy Moore
Mikayla Barry ’17 and Maura Cadigan ’17 have been selected as the Texas A&M nominees for the 2016 Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Astronaut Scholarship. Both students were nominated for the Goldwater scholarship earlier this year, and they will now compete for the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Scholarship with other candidates from institutions such as Georgia Tech, MIT, the University of Chicago, and the University of Michigan.
In 1984, the six surviving members of the Mercury 7 mission created the scholarship to encourage students to pursue scientific endeavors. Awarding $4 million in scholarships to more than 400 of the nation’s top scholars over the last 32 years, the ASF program members include astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Space Shuttle programs.
Junior biomedical engineering major Mikayla Barry is Texas A&M’s first Beckman Scholar, serves as an Undergraduate Research Ambassador, conducts research in Dr. Melissa Grunlan’s Polymeric Biomaterials lab, and volunteers at the Chemistry Open House, the Physics & Engineering Festival, and SEE Math Camps. Mikayla is particularly passionate about gender imbalance in engineering fields.
“I know we have come a long way since women started venturing out from their expected roles, and I expect that, with time, the workplace environment in STEM fields will become more balanced,” Barry says. “A&M’s Biomedical Engineering department has pretty close to 50 percent female students and a much greater diversity in heritage than I could have predicted. The primary reason I realize gender imbalance is an issue results from the experiences of other engineering friends, mostly in the workforce. I really want them to be able to enjoy the sense of belonging I’ve been able to experience thus far.”
Barry’s focus is to improve STEM participation and integration in education, believing that outreach to under-represented groups, specifically minorities and women, is one of the largest ways to make an impact.
“I personally looked up to women who were not only involved in these fields, but made significant advances, reminding me that I can do the same.” Barry considers Marie Curie a role model as Curie “was esteemed by her peers because of her breakthroughs in understanding radioactivity, and her gender was of no significance.”
Barry intends to earn her Ph.D. in Materials Science, and then join the faculty of a research university. She also aspires to organize STEM outreach for middle school and high school students.
“As a faculty sponsor, I want to encourage collaboration among students of different backgrounds,” Barry says, “and in doing so help them learn to see beyond each others’ differences, effectively preparing them for the environment they will likely see when they become practicing engineers or scientists.”
Junior aerospace engineering major Maura Cadigan is the first Aggie to be selected for the Stanford U.S.-Russia Forum where she serves as a technical consultant on a multinational research team. She is also the mechanical team lead for the Women in Engineering’s first VEX robotics team and is very active in the Student Engineers Council. Cadigan is passionate about studying the effect of international public policy on multinational collaborations in industrial research.
“The more work experience I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized just how much policy affects the ability of researchers to collaborate and what they can collaborate on,” Cadigan says. “In my opinion, researchers are too restrained by policies for the sake of politics that don’t matter to them. In the future, I want to advocate on behalf of researchers to inform policy.”
When it comes to the ASF astronaut scholarship, Cadigan says she would love to follow in the footsteps of those who have previously been awarded.
“Winning an Astronaut Scholarship would be incredible! It would open so many doors and allow me to join a list of students who went on to do well in their future education and in their careers.”
Following graduation, Cadigan plans to earn a Ph.D. at a top technical school, such as Georgia Tech. After that, she dreams of pursuing a career with NASA or in a government lab such as the Sandia National Laboratories.
To read more about how LAUNCH: National Fellowships helps prepare outstanding students to compete for nationally-competitive awards such as the Astronaut Scholarship with the generous support of the Association of Former Students, please visit http://natlfellows.tamu.edu.