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Scholarship lets students shoot for the stars

By Ellen Stenstrom, The Miami Student

Colonel Al Worden will be at Miami University to deliver a lecture about his journey in outer space and to present the annual Astronaut Scholarship to this year's recipient, senior Maeva Metz from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22, in Hall Auditorium.

Worden graduated from West Point, and then from the University of Michigan with a Masters of Science degree in Astronautical and Aeronautical Engineering. He then joined the Air Force and began teaching at the U.S. Test Pilots School.

In 1971, he piloted the command module for Apollo 15, keeping it in orbit for three days while his crew explored and conducted research. Worden became one of only 24 humans to ever reach the moon.

First-year student Blake Wysocki, said that he is required to attend the lecture for his geology course, but would be interested in hearing Worden regardless.

"There's not many astronauts from that era that are going to be around for much longer," he said.

Associate Director of the University Honors Program Zeb Baker is in charge of the Astronaut Scholarship program at Miami. She said that first-year honors students were asked to attend the talk to inspire them to work toward national fellowships, become more involved and simply because it's an incredible chance to hear a living astronaut tell his story.

"It's a real benefit for students to have a sense of the kind of historical scope and scale of this," Baker said. "This is a story of scientific exploration… service to our country, and … maybe one of the greatest achievements that mankind has ever engaged in, which was leaving earth to go and land on the moon…"

Worden's visit serves a dual purpose. In addition to recounting his experience in space, he will also present the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation's award. This award includes a $10,000 prize, and was granted to Metz, a microbiology major and molecular biology minor from Brookfield, Connecticut.

For over 30 years, one undergraduate STEM major from each of the 32 participating colleges has been selected through a multi-step process. One of the Astronaut Hall of Fame members then travels to the recipient's school to speak and to present the award.

"Miami has been very fortunate through the work that Dr. Paul Uriyama has done… to really make sure that [students] are getting the best opportunities possible," Baker said.

These opportunities are not purely theoretical, however. Last year's scholarship recipient, Michael Markesbery, had been working on a potential therapeutic treatment for cancer. Today, he runs Lukla, a fabric technology company. Through his astronaut from last year's presentation, he learned about NASA's Aerogel space suit technology. Aerogel is now inserted into his outerwear, making it much warmer and much less bulky.

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"[We] started this company and put all of out life savings into exploring this Aerogel tech … worked with suppliers and manufacturers, developed it until it was ready," Markesbery said. "We picked up a designer who was featured in Vogue, he designed our jackets …next thing we knew we were featured in Discovery Channel in Canada… kick-started in a little over $100,000 in the first 36 hours."

Markesbery's years of hard work and dedication paid off, and he is well on his way to a highly successful future. He leaves this piece of advice for current students:

"Just take a risk," he said. "I think naturally we're all afraid of failure, right? But there's something about understanding that the road to success is littered with failed attempts … basically anything's possible so just take a risk, go after it. If you fail, no big deal. Just try and try again."