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2 UK Students Selected for Henry Clay Internship at NASA HQ

2 UK Students Selected for Henry Clay Internship at NASA HQ

LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 27, 2022) — Two University of Kentucky students have been selected for the Henry Clay Internship at NASA HQ for the 2022-23 academic year. The internship offers an exceptional opportunity for highly accomplished students to serve in the NASA Office of the Chief Scientist.

NASA’s chief scientist serves as principal advisor to the NASA administrator and other senior officials on agency science programs, strategic planning and the evaluation of related investments. The Henry Clay Internship with this office is sponsored by the Kentucky Society of Washington in partnership with the NASA Kentucky Space Grant Consortium.

The selected UK students are:

  • Will Anderson, a mechanical engineering senior, also pursuing an aerospace certificate, from Buckner, Kentucky; and
  • Anna Ladd McElhannon, a physics senior, from Lexington.

Anderson, the son of Tim and Stephanie Anderson, says the Henry Clay Internship will be an invaluable opportunity.

“Having a direct connection to the scientists, engineers and staff working in the Office of the Chief Scientist will not only provide me with insight into all of the scientific efforts of NASA, but also position me to communicate those efforts to the public,” he said. “Additionally, this internship will provide me with important work experience and knowledge in the field of space exploration — one that I hope to contribute to in my career.”

Anderson found his start in engineering through the Project Lead the Way Pathway to Engineering program, which he completed in high school. He then decided to come to UK and major in mechanical engineering and earn a certificate in aerospace.

“I am a big fan of the 80s and 90s ‘Star Trek’ TV series, and they have undoubtedly influenced my interest in aerospace engineering,” he said. “Even in ‘Star Trek,’ set hundreds of years in the future, there are still big questions to answer and problems to solve!”

Last summer, Anderson interned at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in the Air and Missile Defense Sector.

“This was a great experience and allowed me to experience working in a professional aerospace environment while solidifying my goal of helping to solve critical problems in aerospace,” he said.

This past spring, Anderson took a systems engineering course at UK that illustrated the “behind the scenes” of aerospace projects and missions and what goes into preparing for them. The final course project was the creation of an initial system architecture for a subset of a Mars-based medical facility.

“This was a fascinating change of pace from the strictly mathematical approach that many other engineering courses and projects follow, and I am hoping to find some connections to this course during my internship,” Anderson said. “Dr. Suzanne Smith, who was my professor for the course, introduced this internship to me and I am beyond grateful for her support!”

After earning his undergraduate degree, Anderson hopes to obtain a master’s degree in either aerospace engineering or bioastronautics, and potentially a Ph.D. in a similar field. He hopes to one day develop technologies to keep astronauts safe and healthy. 

McElhannon, the daughter of Mary and Ernest McElhannon, became interested in physics and astronomy as a child, growing up with her family in the woods.

“There was only one spot near us where we could see the sky through the trees — on a hill down the street,” she said. “My family used to walk there on clear nights to watch shooting stars and talk about the little astrophysics we knew at the time. It only felt natural to learn everything I could. Once I read all I could about space, I began on classical mechanics, and everything snowballed from there!”

At UK, McElhannon conducts research on non-radial pulsation of RR Lyrae variable stars, under the mentorship of Ron Wilhelm, associate professor and director of undergraduate studies in the UK Department of Physics and Astronomy. She acknowledges Wilhelm for aiding in her success at UK, along with Professor Chris Crawford, who recommended her for the NASA HQ internship. She also credits her high school physics teacher, Mark Rush.

“He changed my life completely,” she said. “I have never been the smartest student in my classes, but he encouraged me to follow my passion no matter how difficult it was. I don’t know where I would be without him. Thank you, Mr. Rush!”

Last summer, McElhannon participated in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) at UK, titled “Research in Symmetries,” which introduced her to the research process and the physics community.

She says the Henry Clay Internship will allow her to explore not only the research aspects of her physics major, but also the policy aspects.

“The world of physics involves much more than discoveries; it involves the responsibility to handle the discoveries responsibly,” McElhannon said. “Every aspect of physics fascinates me, so the ability to explore all of them at once is incredibly exciting.”

After she completes her UK degree, she hopes to attend graduate school to obtain a doctoral degree in physics or astrophysics.

The Office of Nationally Competitive Awards assists current UK undergraduate and graduate students and recent alumni in applying for internships, external scholarships and fellowships funded by sources (such as a nongovernment foundation or government agency) outside the university. These awards honor exceptional students across the nation. Students who are interested in these opportunities are encouraged to contact the office well in advance of the scholarship deadline.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for” three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes’ list of “America’s Best Employers.”  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.

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