Clemson University student scores prestigious astronaut scholarship

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Caitlin Seluzicki, a rising senior at Clemson University and recipient of the Astronaut Scholar Award, is spending her summer internship at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. Photo by Caitlin Seluzicki.

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) has awarded more than $4 million to undergraduate students since its inception about 30 years ago. Clemson University’s Caitlin Seluzicki is now one of those students.

Seluzicki, a rising senior majoring in microbiology, was recently awarded the 2017 Astronaut Scholar Award for her research under David Feliciano, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Clemson University. She is one of only seven Clemson students to have ever received the award, which comes with a $10,000 scholarship for tuition, textbooks, fees, and room and board.

“I am grateful for the mentoring that I have received in Dr. Feliciano’s lab that has allowed me to develop skills that will be indispensable in my pursuits,” said Seluzicki. “I’m grateful to be a part of research that I am passionate about.”

Feliciano and his students study how neural stem cells direct brain growth, research that contributes to the treatment of neurological disorders. Seluzicki contributes to Feliciano’s research by studying the role of an amino acid transporter in cerebral cortical development.

“It’s gratifying to be able to pass the torch to young, rising scientists like Caitlin,” Feliciano said. “Caitlin is dedicated to the scientific process, and this award assures her the continued opportunity to pursue her intellectual curiosities. Our laboratory is very proud of her efforts, and we are excited to see what she will accomplish next.”

Seluzicki has focused on biomedicine during her time at Clemson University.

“I chose the microbiology-biomedicine track because the major focuses on the interaction of microbes with the world,” said Seluzicki. “My favorite part is the learning experience. I love learning techniques and ways to apply them to gradually uncover answers to our ever-growing list of questions.”

NASA’s Project Mercury was the first human spaceflight program of the United States, running from 1958 through 1963. Back row: Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, Gordon Cooper; front row: Wally Schirra, Deke Slayton, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter. Photo by NASA.

Seluzicki has been named to the President’s List and Dean’s List at Clemson University every semester of her undergraduate career. She was also recently awarded the 2017 Barry Goldwater Scholarship for her research.

The ASF selected Seluzicki for her “unyielding pursuit of undergraduate research and also for her excellence in her coursework,” according to a press release.

The six surviving members of the Mercury 7 mission founded the ASF in 1984 to encourage students to pursue scientific studies to keep the United States on the leading edge of technology.

Astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Space Shuttle programs have since joined the ASF, which has awarded scholarships to more than 400 of the nation’s top scholars in STEM fields.

Admission into the scholarship program is highly competitive, and only the top research universities in the country are chosen to participate. Only two students can be nominated each year from participating universities, of which only one student can receive the award.

Seluzicki was nominated by faculty across multiple departments, including biological sciences, mathematical sciences, physics and astronomy, and more.

Doug Bielenberg, an associate professor of biological sciences at Clemson University, was on Seluzicki’s nominating committee. “Caitlin is a wonderful example of a well-rounded and engaged student who not only has excelled in the research lab, but also in activities that bridge into history and political science,” Bielenberg said.

Seluzicki plans to spend her summer interning at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts, studying the processes necessary to keep cells living, which will help her future studies. After graduating, she plans to attend graduate school to pursue development neuroscience research.

For more information, visit astronautscholarship.org.

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