Kendal Ezell ‘18 and Brooke Versaw ‘18 have been selected to receive 2017 Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Astronaut Scholarship awards. Both students previously received Honorable Mention recognition in the 2017 Goldwater scholarship competition.
In 1984, the six surviving members of the Mercury 7 mission created the scholarship to encourage students to pursue scientific endeavors. Today the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) program members include astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Space Shuttle programs. Over the last 33 years the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation has awarded over $4 million in scholarships to more than 400 of the nation’s top scholars over the last 32 years. This year only 45 students nationwide are being honored with this prestigious scholarship.
Kendal Ezell is a senior biomedical engineering student minoring in neuroscience. She was honored in 2017 as the Phi Kappa Phi Outstanding Junior for Texas A&M after being selected as the Outstanding Junior from the College of Engineering. As noted above, Ezell was selected for Honorable Mention in the 2017 Goldwater Scholarship competition, and is a member of both the University Honors Program and the Engineering Honors program. Ezell was an Undergraduate Research Scholar, completing her undergraduate thesis on shape-memory polymer foam devices for the treatment of brain aneurysms with Dr. Duncan Maitland in the Biomedical Device Lab. She has also conducted research on the relationship between emotions and learning memory with Dr. Mark Packard in the Institute of Neuroscience, and on biotech device design with Dr. Jeremy Wasser in the Germany Biosciences Study Abroad Program. Ezell’s research has resulted in three publications, including one in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Journal for Design of Medical Devices Conference for which she is first author. She also was awarded a Gilman scholarship for international study and has gained inventorship on provisional patent applications.
Ezell plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. dual degree and work in medical device development and treatment and prevention of tissue degradation in diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Ezell’s grandmother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s sparked her passion in this direction. “Before my grandmother’s passing,” she says, “medicine was my chosen field, but her illness gave me further direction into a research career. I realized that I want to do more than just treat patients; I want to conduct research so that I can develop new ways to help and treat patients like my grandmother. The fields of neurology and tissue engineering interest me. It is at the intersections of these fields where I hope to apply interdisciplinary strategies to solve problems in unique ways.”
Brooke Versaw is a senior chemistry student with a minor in business administration. Versaw was selected as a Beckman Scholar and University Scholar in 2015, and has served in multiple leadership capacities within the University Honors Program Honors Housing Community and Honors Student Council. Versaw also has extensive research experience. The summer before her senior year in high school, she worked with Dr. Junha Jeon at the University of Texas at Arlington as a Welch Foundation Summer Scholar. The summer before her freshman year at Texas A&M, she worked with Dr. Steve Lockless in the Department of Biology to study intracellular signaling. Most recently, Versaw has worked with her Beckman Scholar mentor, Dr. Karen Wooley, as an Undergraduate Research Scholar. Her thesis examined the development of a novel class of degradable polycarbonate materials to create environmentally-responsible plastics. In addition to conducting original research, Versaw is also invested in extolling the virtues of scientific research.
“While my research experience has undoubtedly informed and inspired my desire for a career in scientific research,” Versaw says, “it has also made me an enthusiastic advocate for science outreach. As an Undergraduate Research Ambassador for Texas A&M University, a volunteer for the annual Chemistry Open House, and a workshop leader for Expanding Your Horizons, a STEM initiative for 6th grade girls, I discovered that I enjoy both conducting research and communicating its findings. Moreover, I enjoy serving as a role model and a source of encouragement for younger students.”
Following graduation, Versaw plans to pursue a doctoral degree in chemistry and a career as a polymer chemist on the faculty of a Tier-1 research institution, where she can impact both her field of polymer and materials synthesis, and help cultivate future generations of scientists.
Ezell and Versaw will be presented their ASF awards at a special ceremony on Thursday, October 26, by former astronaut Fred Gregory.
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.