Texas A&M University senior Ashley Hayden '19 has been selected to receive a $10,000 scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF).

Hayden, a biology major from Friendswood, Texas, is set to graduate in spring 2019 with her bachelor's of science degree in biology and double minors in bioinformatics and psychology. She is one of two 2018-19 recipients along with Ashley Holt '20, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering. Both students were selected based on demonstrated initiative, creativity and excellence in undergraduate research and academics in their fields as well as their potential to become leaders in their scientific and professional pursuits.

Former astronaut and Apollo 16 Moonwalker Charlie Duke will present Hayden and Holt with their Astronaut Scholar awards September 20 as part of a 9:30 a.m. ceremony in Rudder Auditorium on the Texas A&M campus. The program, which is co-sponsored by Texas A&M LAUNCH along with the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, also will feature a public lecture by Duke. The event is free and open to the public, but tickets are required for entry and are available through the Memorial Student Center Box Office.

Hayden has conducted undergraduate research since June 2017 as a member of Texas A&M biologist Christine Merlin's laboratory. After initially working under the supervision of Texas A&M genetics graduate student and 2015 Texas A&M biology graduate Samantha Iiams, Hayden began an independent project involving genetic knockout mutant Monarch butterflies. Currently, she is developing projects related to magnetoreception in Monarchs and studying the magnetic sensing abilities of her own knockout mutant and related effects.

In addition to the Merlin lab, Hayden is a member of the Biology Honors Program, the University Honors Program and the University Scholars Program. An Undergraduate Research Ambassador, she is also in the process of applying for the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. After graduating, Hayden aspires to go to graduate school and become a professor.

"I am very fortunate that research has become a lifelong vocation for me," Hayden said. "It combines my biggest passions: learning a lot, teaching others, and making a difference in the world."

For more than 30 years, the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation has identified and supported the best and brightest undergraduate students pursuing educations in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields across the nation. The Astronaut Scholarship is known for being among the most significant merit-based scholarships awarded to undergraduate STEM students. Candidates must be nominated by faculty of the participating universities based on their display of initiative, creativity and excellence in their chosen field.

"I am grateful to Dr. Duncan MacKenzie, who nominated me for this scholarship, and to Dr. Christine Merlin, who has acted as my research mentor thoughout the process," Hayden said.

Since the scholarship's inception in 1986, Texas A&M has had 29 honorees, including nine from the College of Science: Hayden (2018); Brooke Versaw (chemistry, 2017); Kristin Maulding and Will Linz (molecular and cell biology and applied mathematics, 2015); David Rahmani (physics, 2009); Susan Koons (applied mathematics/psychology, 2008); Justin Wilson (mathematics/physics, 2005 and 2006); Benjamin Aurispa (mathematics, 2004); and John Stewart (physics/mathematics, 2001).

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation was established in 1984 by the six surviving Mercury 7 astronauts to aid the United States in retaining world leadership in the development of cutting edge science and technology. Today, more than 100 astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle programs have joined in the mission, resulting in more than $4 million in scholarships to more than 400 of the nation's top scholars as well as technological innovations across the healthcare, energy, defense, aerospace and homeland security sectors.

For more information on the Astronaut Scholarship and other national and international awards recognizing student academic achievement, please see the National Fellowships section of the LAUNCH website.


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu or Dr. Sumana Datta, (979) 845-1957 or sumad@tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

  • Ashley Hayden '19

    (Credit: Texas A&M LAUNCH.)

  • Ashley Hayden '19 and Texas A&M biologist Dr. Duncan S. MacKenzie, one of the inaugural eight recipients of the Texas A&M Honoring Excellence Award. MacKenzie was nominated by Hayden, based in part on his efforts to found the Texas A&M Biology Honors Program in fall 2016. Coincidentally, he nominated Hayden for the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation award. (Credit: Texas A&M Department of Residence Life.)

  • For more than 30 years, the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation has identified and supported the nation's best and brightest undergraduate students pursuing educations in STEM fields, including 29 students from Texas A&M University. (Credit: Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.)

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