George Fox University students land prestigious NASA scholarships in back-to-back years

Caitlin King and Keiko Fujii, junior roommates with a mutual love of science, score NASA space grant scholarships to help fund their pursuit of engineering and computer science degrees, respectively

NASA scholarship recipients Caitlin King and Keiko Fujii

Keiko Fujii (left) and Caitlin King were among a select group of NASA scholarship recipients in Oregon in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years, respectively.

As long as she can remember, Caitlin King has been fascinated with space. Among her fond memories growing up was talking astronomy with her mother and joining her in the backyard to observe the stars with a telescope.

It comes as no surprise, then, that King would one day be rewarded for her love of all things space – in the form of a prestigious $8,000 NASA space grant scholarship through the Oregon Space Grant Consortium. The George Fox junior mechanical engineering major from Bothell, Wash., was one of only 15 students in the state of Oregon to receive the award for the 2014-15 academic year.

NASA Scholarship Times Two

It marked the second straight year a George Fox student earned the scholarship. In 2013-14, Keiko Fujii, a junior computer science major from Boise, Idaho, won a $5,000 award from the consortium, which “supports the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s objectives of fostering and encouraging career goals in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] and STEM education,” according to the organization’s website.

To earn the scholarships, King and Fujii wrote essays explaining how the money would help with their educational goals and, in turn, how those educational goals would prepare them for careers that ultimately benefit the NASA community.

“It’s a great honor, because I’ve always admired NASA and grew up loving astronomy,” King said of the scholarship. “I’m not sure yet which direction I’ll go [with my career], but I’m considering aerospace engineering. Whatever I pursue, it will most likely involve designing or building projects. I enjoy the challenge of building things as a solution to a given problem – the creative side of engineering.”

Improving Space Photography

Fujii hopes to couple her computer science degree with her favorite hobby, photography. “One of the problems they’ve encountered in the space industry is the challenge of getting high-quality pictures from space,” she said. “There tends to be a lot of noise in the photos, particularly when taking long-exposure shots. I’d love to help come up with a solution to that problem.”

For Fujii, the NASA scholarship did more than simply help pay her college bills. “It opened my eyes to the possibilities and made me really think about what I could do with my career,” she said. “It was also encouraging to me as a female, because there just aren’t that many girls pursuing careers in STEM subjects. I want to encourage girls that STEM is a cool thing to do, that if they love science they should go for it and not be intimidated.”

Professors Who Mentor

Both Fujii and King, who also happen to room together, say they have benefitted from George Fox professors who have taken the time to mentor them and encourage them to pursue careers in science.

“The professors here, particularly Brent Wilson and David Hansen, have really invested in me as a person,” Fujii says. “They have been incredibly influential to get me to where I am today. Both challenge and push me to be the best I can be. I love that they aren’t here just to help me with my homework. They connect on a personal level and genuinely care about my future.”

Engineering's Practical Application

For King, the practicality and creative possibilities of engineering are the profession’s biggest appeal.

“I love that the projects we do have real-life application, like the icemaker we worked on in thermodynamics last semester, where we had to design an icemaker that would freeze 100 kilograms of water in 12 hours. In theory, it could be used to ship medicine to third-world countries. It goes beyond being a homework assignment – it’s something that can actually be used.”

“The fact the engineering department is accredited [by ABET, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology] is a big reason I was drawn to Fox. Another is the fact that you really do connect with your professors here – I know them and they know me.”