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BMB undergraduate nominated for Astronaut Scholarship

13 April 2022
Ellie Kim wearing floral shirt
Ellie Kim, of State College, Pennsylvania, is a biochemistry and molecular biology and general music major. Credit: Sean Yoder / Penn State

Junior Ellie Kim is one of two undergraduate students nominated by Penn State for the 2022 Astronaut Scholarship, which awards $15,000 to undergraduates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields who intend to pursue a career in research. 

Kim, of State College, Pennsylvania, is a Schreyer Scholar majoring in general music (piano) and biochemistry and molecular biology. Her undergraduate research under Moriah Szpara, associate professor of biology and biochemistry and molecular biology, focuses on how the genetic diversity of herpes viruses brings about different characteristics in their infectivity and severity.  

Kim also has pursued research opportunities outside of Penn State at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, where she worked with Leah Kottyan, associate professor in the University of Cincinnati Department of Pediatrics, to establish a link between the Epstein-Barr virus and multiple sclerosis.  

She also recently worked as an intern in Germany through the DAAD RISE program to conduct diabetes research. 

“I knew I wanted to have a career in research when I had fun coming up with all these questions and approaches to my research projects in high school,” Kim said. “The experiences I had in undergrad bolstered this desire to pursue a research career in biomedical sciences.” 

More about the Astronaut Scholarship and how to apply 

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation was established in 1984 by the six surviving members of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, along with Betty Grissom, widow of Virgil “Gus” Grissom; William Douglas, Project Mercury flight surgeon; and Henri Landwirth, businessperson and friend of the Mercury 7. The Mercury 7 are America’s first astronauts, picked from the ranks of U.S. military test pilots in the late 1950s. The foundation continued to grow its support over the years from astronauts from the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle programs, according to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation website. 

The University can nominate up to two applicants for the award each year, so students must first pass through an internal Penn State selection process facilitated by Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Mentoring. Students must be U.S. citizens, full-time second- or third-year Penn State students with one to two years of study remaining and be majoring in an approved STEM field with the intention of pursuing a career in research. The University nominates its applicants based on proof of creativity and innovation, initiative and exceptional performance in their respective fields. The University deadline to apply for the next round of Astronaut Scholarships will be January 2023. 

Students interested in applying to the scholarship can contact Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Mentoring at to learn more about the scholarship program and verify that they meet the eligibility criteria. 

Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Mentoring is part of the Penn State Office of Undergraduate Education