Two Florida Tech Students Named 2023 Astronaut Scholars

Karly Liebendorfer, Ruth Nichols Among Recipients from 45 Universities

MELBOURNE, FLA. — Florida Tech seniors Karly Liebendorfer and Ruth Nichols have been named 2023 Astronaut Scholars, the prestigious recognition from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) that signifies they are among “the best and brightest minds” in STEM.

The scholarships are awarded annually to junior and senior college students studying science, technology, engineering or mathematics with the intent to pursue research or advance their field upon completion of their final degree. For 2023 there were 68 recipients from schools including MIT, Purdue, Johns Hopkins and Georgia Tech in addition to Florida Tech.

“Astronaut scholars are the innovators of tomorrow,” the foundation said.

Liebendorfer is not waiting for tomorrow to explore innovation.

A biomedical engineering major with minors in nanoscience/nanotechnology and chemistry, she is working in Vipuil Kishore’s Functional Biomaterials & Tissue Engineering Laboratory and was chosen to participate in the yearlong Werner H. Kirsten Student Intern Program at the National Cancer Institute at Fort Detrick, Maryland.

Carrying a 3.81 cumulative GPA, Liebendorfer was named Outstanding Student of the Year for the Department of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering and Sciences. She is a member of the Florida Tech Honors College program and has made the Dean’s List every year. She has been on Florida Tech’s DII lacrosse team since her freshman year.

Her love of science was realized early.

“’I want to do this for the rest of my life.’ I told myself this after completing my fourth science fair competition in the eighth grade,” Liebendorfer wrote in her ASF essay. “My theoretical “Contact Eye Drops” project sealed my fate as a scientific researcher. Since then, I have been chasing my dream of being a biomedical engineer, more importantly, a woman in STEM.”

Whether in science fairs or university labs, Liebendorfer’s excellence comes through.

“She consistently demonstrated her grasp of the complicated subject matter with great answers that indicated her ability to see the big picture, an attribute that is essential in the making of great biomedical engineers,” said Venkat Keshav Chivukula, director of the Multiscale Cardiovascular Fluids Laboratory and assistant professor in biomedical engineering and science, who first taught Liebendorfer in his biofluids class and has remained an advisor and mentor.

For Ruth Nichols, this is the second consecutive year she has been honored as an Astronaut Scholar. A double major in astrobiology and applied mathematics, she is a past recipient of both Outstanding Student of the Year and Distinguished Student Scholar awards.

“The 2023 Class of Astronaut Scholars is truly exceptional and embodies the passion, dedication and innovation that will propel us into the future of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,” said Caroline Schumacher, ASF’s president and CEO. “We are excited to support these outstanding individuals in their endeavors and cannot wait to witness their achievements as the game-changers of tomorrow.”

Upon selection, each student receives a scholarship of up to $15,000 and is officially named an Astronaut Scholar. Other benefits include: networking and mentoring opportunities with astronauts, alumni and industry leaders; participation in the Michael Collins Family Professional Development Program; and a paid trip to attend ASF’s Innovators Week & Gala in Orlando Aug. 16-19 featuring the Neil Armstrong Award of Excellence, which provides an opportunity for Astronaut Scholars to present their research at a technical conference.

Created in 1984, ASF awarded its first seven scholarships in honor of its founding members, the Mercury 7 Astronauts — Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Walter Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton. Each founding member sponsored a $1,000 scholarship and began to fundraise to support future scholarships by donating proceeds from their speaking engagements. The incredible efforts of these legends have shaped ASF’s mission to support and reward exceptional college students pursuing degrees in STEM fields. Over the past 39 years, more than $8.3 million has been awarded to nearly 800 students.  

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