Chemical engineering student wins prestigious Astronaut Scholarship Foundation award
Space may be dark, but senior chemical engineering major Katherine Traynelis’ future is looking bright.
Traynelis, who also minors in biotechnology and biomanufacturing, is one of 68 students in 2023 to win the prestigious Astronaut Scholarship, given annually by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. The foundation awarded scholarships to juniors and seniors studying science, technology, engineering or math from 46 universities across the U.S.
“I’m immensely grateful to the astronaut scholarship foundation for not only their financial support of my academic career, but also for the community of scholars, alumni and others who support the foundation,” said Traynelis, who was awarded with the scholarship at a ceremony on Jan. 30 in the Coastal Ballroom in Talley Student Center.
Traynelis was introduced by Associate Dean Jerome Lavelle, who noted that this was the first time NC State hosted the annual event with the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation in person since COVID began in 2020.
Lavelle also introduced Fredrick Gregory, a professional astronaut who has logged nearly 500 hours in space on missions like the Challenger in 1985 and Discovery in 1989. Gregory came to speak at NC State previously, in 2016.
Gregory presented Traynelis with her award, noting that the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation has awarded almost 800 scholarships totaling over $8 million.
“They’re not just a momentary or a plaque award,” he said in his presentation. “What a scholar also receives is kind of a lifetime commitment from the astronaut Scholarship Foundation and they will be assigned or given an opportunity to have a mentor, and that mentor will stay with that person for as long as that person would like that.
“We’re giving them information on the future, perhaps introductions to industry, and things of that nature. And so it’s much more than just a plaque and a monetary award.”
As part of the program, Traynelis also had an opportunity to participate in Innovators Week, a four-day event during which all of the scholars convened at Hilton Orlando on Destination Parkway in Florida to network, attend lectures by professional astronauts and get to know each other.
“Innovators Week was one of the most inspiring events of my college career, and I came back to school refreshed and ready to face the challenges of the future,” Traynelis told the crowd.
Traynelis came to NC State from Sevierville, Tennessee, and hopes to continue north after graduation, perhaps to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
She thanked Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE) Associate Professor Albert Keung and Professor Balaji Rao, both of whom mentored her throughout her undergraduate research project; Alison Waldman, a CBE Ph.D. student and Traynelis’ project mentor; and her parents, among others.
“I’m honored and humbled to have been selected as a national scholar,” she said. “I hope that as I continue my academic journey, I can continue a legacy of innovation and excellence.”