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Eberly College of Science undergraduate earns Astronaut Scholarship

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24 May 2018

Taylor BaumEberly College of Science fourth year Taylor Baum is continuing her success after receiving STEM-based awards by earning an Astronaut Scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

Baum, of Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, said she would like to conduct research on the intersection between neuroscience and electrical engineering and improve the understanding of methods to interface with the brain using technology.

After earning a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship earlier this year, she said it was important to be resilient when approaching research because success can only come after failure.

“Oftentimes it is difficult to sacrifice time from one’s academic studies to pursue research,” she said after finding out she won the Astronaut Scholarship. “Research can feel unrewarding for it is an incredibly slow and difficult process. Receiving honors like the Astronaut Scholarship provides justification for my research efforts; others see that I am willing to endure the process in order to discover and create. But this feeling of justification soon turns into inspiration. Because others believe in me, I now have a duty to maintain a caliber of research that is worth believing in.”

Tim Kane, professor of electrical engineering, has been mentoring Baum and is her honors adviser. He praised her hard work and creativity.

“If you judge the book ‘Taylor Baum’ by her cover, you would likely expect some quirky tales within, and you would be correct; what you might not expect, at first at least, is how bright and hardworking she is, how creative she is, or how much she is likely to change the world,” Kane said.

The Schreyer Scholar is a senior double-majoring in biology and electrical engineering. She also is the recipient of the Madden Honors Scholarship, the Doris N. McKinstry Scholarship and the Sinha Family Trustee Scholarship.

Baum has also been working with Sean Brennan, professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering, on intelligent wheelchair systems. She is currently doing an internship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in neural systems modeling.

Her latest scholarship comes from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, established in 1984 by the six surviving members of the original Mercury 7 astronauts; Betty Grissom, widow of the late Virgil “Gus” Grissom; William Douglas, Project Mercury flight surgeon; and Henri Landwirth, businessman and friend of the Mercury 7.

The Mercury 7 are America’s first astronauts, picked from the ranks of the top-performing military aviators in the late 1950s who themselves have academic roots in the STEM fields. ASF continued to grow its support over the years from astronauts from the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle programs, according to the ASF website.

The University can only nominate up to two applicants for the award, so students first have to pass through an internal Penn State selection process facilitated by the University Fellowships Office. Students must be U.S. citizens, a full-time sophomore or junior and have one to two years of study remaining, have completed at least two years of full-time study at Penn State and be majoring in a STEM field.

ASF also picks its scholarship candidates based on proof of leadership, imagination and exceptional performance in their respective fields.

Caitlin Ting, interim director of UFO, praised Baum for her recent successes.

“The office is tremendously proud of Taylor’s successes and we can’t wait to see where she goes next with her research,” Ting said. “When I first met Taylor last semester, she wasn’t sure yet whether she’d apply for the Astronaut Scholarship. She was more focused on the Goldwater Scholarship. She had competed for it the previous year as a sophomore, but did not earn university nomination, and was determined to be successful the second time round. Now we’re on the other side of this year’s application cycles for the Goldwater and Astronaut Scholarships, and Taylor has landed them both.

To learn more about the campus evaluation process for the Astronaut Scholarship and other scholarships and fellowships opportunities, visit the University Fellowships Office website.

The University Fellowships Office is part of Penn State Undergraduate Education, the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at undergrad.psu.edu.

[ Sean Yoder ]

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