By Sabrina Hornung
17 June 2021
The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) will be providing 60 college students from 44 colleges across America with up to almost $900,000. The 2021 Class of Astronaut Scholars will be presented during ASF’s Innovators Gala taking place on August 14, 2021, at the Hilton Orlando.
One of those students is Ashley North Dakota native Katie Schmidt. Schmidt graduated from Ashley High School in 2019 and is currently a student at NDSU with an emphasis on microbiology.
ASF’s Astronaut Scholarship is offered to junior or senior year college students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The Scholarship process starts with nominations from professors or faculty members at an ASF-partnering university.
Schmidt applied after it was suggested to her by the Dean of the College of Agriculture, though the kicker was she had three days to assemble and revamp her research and then acquire three letters of recommendation.
“I didn't really think that I was going to get it because I guess most people were, like, about six months on this application,” she said.
“One thing they looked at was what kind of activities I was involved with, so I'm president of the microbiology and biotechnology club, and then I am, I'm an active trainer for Sanford, I participate in the NDSU Honors Program. I'm a peer mentor for that, I do welcome week, Bible studies, I mean, a lot of stuff. Then to have sound research, um, was the other and then they're biggest requirement that they looked into is like, what my goals are for the future.”
She went on to say, “ They wanted to know what I do, what I'm going to do and how I'm going to do it. So I think that wanting an MD and a PhD probably helped me out a little bit with that, because not many people get both. It's kind of hard to get both.”
After all was said and done, Schmidt will receive a scholarship of up to $15,000. She will have opportunities to expand her network to include astronauts, alumni and leaders in the industry. She will be able to participate in the Michael Collins Family Professional Development Program, and she received an invitation to attend ASF’s Innovators Week, which provides an opportunity for her and her fellow ASF scholarship recipients to present their research.
“Basically, a lot of my research looks at the hidden world, what we call the world you can't see. and I especially have interest in the human microbiome. A lot of people don't realize we have this entire world living inside of us and the health of that world is directly correlated and related to our health. There have been studies that link gut microbiome gut health to depression.”
“My research also focuses on antimicrobial resistance and E Coli strands, especially around soil in the Red River Valley area. So what we found is that antimicrobial-resistant bacteria -- bacteria that can't be killed by penicillin, amoxicillin, all those good antibiotics, actually -- can be transferred from the animal to the human or the soil to the crop to the human.”
Basically if we get sick from ingesting these antimicrobial-resistant pathogens and it leads to hospitalization, researchers are finding that antimicrobial resistance is skyrocketing. Don’t worry though. If you have the pathogen it doesn’t mean you’re going to be sick.
“In the future as I go on past NDSU, I would definitely like to research more into that. I kind of think antimicrobial resistance is an epidemic. I think that that's going to be one of the major problems we need to solve for healthcare; and probably in the next 20 years, it's going to be a huge, huge thing, whether that would be from them being overprescribed or just the rate that bacteria is able to mutate to get past that.”
So where did this love of microbiology start?
“I've known I've loved microbiology since like, probably 10th grade science fair. It just amazed me that there was like this whole hidden world that I couldn't even see. And then when I was a freshman in college, I got really, really into antimicrobial resistance, I was able to pair up with this professor who let me work in his lab and like, do a whole bunch of my own independent research, which has got me a couple scholarships, which has been nice, I've been able to present on that a couple times. And like, I've always just loved microbiology, but then relating it to health is where I, I really like that. And then I also want to be a medical doctor. So I want to get my MD and my PhD, which, yeah, it's a lot of school, but that's okay, I love school.”
In fact, during her junior and senior years she had the opportunity to present at the International Science Fair.
“For the International Science Fair, I presented with people my age, people in high school or early undergrad that had had the same experiences as me and had the same opportunities. But these people were, like, from renowned labs all over the world. And it just blew me away-- Because I saw how smart these people were. And I was like, Okay, I want to get to this level and I thought to myself, What can I do to be as smart or to to be as intelligent as them? What can I do to push myself So my research someday will be as good as theirs?
Schmidt described the experience as intimidating, inspiring and even collaborative. She says she enjoys public speaking, and even speaking with her one on one, her eyes brim with excitement and passion for her research.
The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) is an Orlando-based, 501(c)3 nonprofit that commemorates the legacy of America’s pioneering astronauts and was founded by the six surviving Mercury 7 Astronauts in 1984.
“Our 2021 Astronaut Scholarship award program reflects our commitment to the best and brightest minds in the fields of STEM” said Caroline Schumacher, President and CEO of ASF. “The challenges of the past year were met head on and managed with great success. We are so honored to support, fuel and inspire all of our 2021 Astronaut Scholars in the process of leadership in science and technology.”
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