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Jonah Stiel, junior, earns Astronaut Scholarship

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

LAWRENCE — Two juniors majoring in STEM fields are the latest University of Kansas students to earn scholarships from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

Angelica Lang, who studies molecular, cellular & developmental biology with a minor in psychology; and Jonah Stiel, who studies chemistry, earned the awards of up to $15,000.

The foundation’s Astronaut Scholarship was founded in 1984 by the six surviving members of the seven astronauts who were part of the Mercury program as a means to encourage students to pursue scientific endeavors. Astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle programs have joined the foundation, which has awarded more than $4 million to more than 400 of the nation’s top scholars.

This year, the foundation awarded 56 scholarships to students from 41 different universities.

The Office of Fellowships, a unit of Undergraduate Studies, coordinates KU’s endorsement process and supports candidates through the application process. Students interested in applying for these awards in the future may contact the office by email at fellowships@ku.edu.

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation accepted KU as a partner institution in 2014 based on the excellence of the university’s STEM academic programs for undergraduates and the strong research capabilities and opportunities for undergraduate students. Admission into the scholarship program is highly competitive, and only the top research universities in the country are chosen to participate.

Lang and Stiel are both KU Beckman Scholars, part of a 15-month program designed to enrich the development of young scientists.

Lang, from Manhattan, is the daughter of Dennis and Elaine Lang and graduated from Manhattan High School.

She received a Goldwater Scholarship earlier this year to accompany her latest award.

Lang started conducting research at Kansas State University while she was still in high school. At KU, she has continued research, working in the lab of Erik Lundquist, professor in the Department of Molecular Biosciences and associate vice chancellor for research at KU. There, she works on neuron migration, increasing the understanding of how genes control how nerve cells move from one place to another.

She said she wanted to continue on to graduate school and possibly pursue a career in academia. She said she was pleased to learn that she’d earned this award to go with the previous Goldwater award she earned.

“Both scholarships come with the opportunity to meet with other scholars,” she said. “To be able to meet with top students in my field from other schools is really important for me, and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Stiel, from Topeka, is the son of Debbie Stiel and Steve Stiel and graduated from Washburn Rural High School.

He began working in the lab of James Blakemore, associate professor of chemistry, while still in high school. He took an interest in how catalysis – the speeding up of chemical reactions – can play a role in solving the world’s energy problems.

He was overjoyed to hear he had earned the scholarship, and hoped to further his work in chemistry.

“I hope my work can help our society continue to grow, while also protecting the planet,” he said.

After graduation, he said he hoped to pursue a doctoral degree in chemistry and a career in academia so he could continue seeking to protect the environment.

Astronaut Scholarships are awarded to students in their junior or senior year of college studying science, technology, engineering or mathematics with the intent to pursue research or advance their field upon completion of their final degree.


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