LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 27, 2022) — Two University of Kentucky students have been selected for the Henry Clay internship at NASA Headquarters for the 2022-23 academic year. The internship offers an exceptional opportunity for highly qualified students to work in the NASA Chief Scientist’s Office.
NASA’s Chief Scientist serves as the principal adviser to the NASA Administrator and other senior officials regarding the agency’s scientific 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 British students selected are:
- Will Anderson of Buckner, Kentucky, a mechanical engineer also pursuing an aerospace certification; and
- Anna Ladd McElhannon, Physics student from Lexington.
Anderson, 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 who work in the Chief Scientist’s office will not only give me insight into all of NASA’s scientific endeavors, but will also enable me to communicate those efforts to the public,” he said said. “Furthermore, this internship will provide me with important work experience and knowledge in the field of space exploration – one that I hope to be able to contribute to in my career.”
Anderson got 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 the UK to study mechanical engineering and get a certificate in aerospace.
“I’m a huge fan of the ‘Star Trek’ TV series from the ’80s and ’90s, and they undoubtedly influenced my interest in aerospace engineering,” he said. “Even with ‘Star Trek’ set hundreds of years in the future, there are still big questions to be answered and problems to be solved!”
Last summer, Anderson completed an internship at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in the field of air and missile defense.
“This was a great experience and allowed me to work in a professional aerospace environment while cementing my goal of helping solve critical aerospace problems,” he said.
Last spring, Anderson took a systems engineering course in the UK that illustrated the ‘behind the scenes’ of aerospace projects and missions and how to prepare for them. The final project of the course was to create an initial system architecture for a subset of a medical facility on Mars.
“This was a fascinating change from the strictly mathematical approach that many other engineering courses and projects follow, and I hope to find some connections to this course during my internship,” Anderson said. “Dr. Suzanne Smith, my professor for the course, introduced me to this internship and I am very grateful to her for her support!”
After his bachelor’s degree, Anderson hopes to earn a master’s degree in aerospace engineering or bioastronautics and possibly a Ph.D. in a similar area. He hopes to one day develop technologies that keep astronauts safe and healthy.
McElhannon, the daughter of Mary and Ernest McElhannon, was interested in physics and astronomy as a child and grew 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 road,” she said. “My family used to go there on clear nights to watch shooting stars and talk about what little aspects of astrophysics we knew at the time. It just felt natural to learn everything I could. After reading as much as I could about space, I started with the classic mechanics, and it just snowballed from there!”
In the UK, McElhannon is investigating non-radial pulsation of RR Lyrae variable stars under the direction of Ron Wilhelm, Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies at the UK Institute for Physics and Astronomy. She thanks Wilhelm for supporting her success in the UK, along with Professor Chris Crawford for recommending her for the NASA Headquarters internship. She also credits her high school physics teacher, Mark Rush.
“He completely changed my life,” she said. “I was never 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 attended the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) in the UK, entitled 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 political aspects.
“The world of physics encompasses much more than just discoveries; it carries with it a responsibility to act responsibly with the discoveries,” said McElhannon. “Every aspect of physics fascinates me, so the ability to explore them all at the same time is incredibly exciting.”
After completing her UK degree, she hopes to pursue a PhD in graduate school in physics or astrophysics.
The Office of Nationally Competitive Awards supports current UK undergraduate and graduate students and young alumni to apply for internships, external grants and grants funded by sources (such as a non-governmental foundation or government agency) outside the university. These awards honor exceptional students across the country. Students interested in these opportunities are encouraged to contact the office well in advance of the scholarship deadline.