CLEMSON, South Carolina – To keep America at the forefront of science and technology innovation, the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation has awarded more than $4 million to undergraduate students since its inception about 30 years ago.

Caitlin Seluzicki, a rising senior majoring in microbiology, is the latest of more than 400 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) scholars to receive the honor. Seluzicki was presented the 2017 Astronaut Scholar Award for the 2017-2018 academic year because of her research under David Feliciano, an assistant professor of biological sciences in the College of Science. Feliciano and his students study how neural stem cells direct brain growth, research that contributes to the treatment of neurological disorders.

“It’s gratifying to be able to pass the torch to young, rising scientists like Caitlin,” Feliciano said. “Caitlin is dedicated to the scientific process, and this award assures her the continued opportunity to pursue her intellectual curiosities. Our laboratory is very proud of her efforts, and we are excited to see what she will accomplish next.”

Seluzicki contributes to Feliciano’s research by studying the role of an amino acid transporter in cerebral cortical development.

“I am grateful for the mentoring that I have received in Dr. Feliciano’s lab that has allowed me to develop skills that will be indispensable in my pursuits after Clemson,” Seluzicki said. “I’m grateful to be a part of research that I am passionate about.”

Caitlin Seluzicki at her summer internship at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Caitlin Seluzicki at her summer internship at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
Image Credit: Caitlin Seluzicki

Seluzicki was chosen for her unyielding pursuit of undergraduate research and also for her excellence in her coursework. She has been named to the President’s List and Dean’s List at Clemson University every semester of her undergraduate career, and she is a member of Calhoun Honors College.

“Cait has a very bright future as a research scientist,” said Ricki Shine, associate director of the Calhoun Honors College. “Clemson is very proud of her accomplishments this year.”

Within her microbiology studies, Seluzicki has focused on biomedicine. When asked what stands out to her about her education, she emphasized the importance of microbiology in studying the human body and understanding microbes’ effects on the environment.

“I chose the microbiology-biomedicine track because the major focuses on the interaction of microbes with the world,” Seluzicki said. “My favorite part is the learning experience. I love learning techniques and ways to apply them to gradually uncover answers to our ever-growing list of questions.”

The Astronaut Scholar Award confers upwards of $10,000 to chosen students to lessen the costs of tuition, textbooks, fees, and room and board. This award supplements the $7,500 in funds Seluzicki was granted by the 2017 Barry Goldwater Scholarship, which she won earlier this year for her skill in the STEM field.

“I am overwhelmed with gratitude to have been awarded the Astronaut Foundation Scholarship and the Goldwater Scholarship,” Seluzicki said. “I am very thankful for the mentoring and opportunities that I have received, which have supported me throughout my college career at Clemson.”

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation was created by six of the Mercury 7 astronauts who comprise NASA’s first-ever class of astronauts approved for spaceflight. Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Walter Schirra, Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton and Betty Grissom (wife of deceased astronaut Virgil Grissom) awarded the first Astronaut Scholar Award in 1986. Seluzicki is one of only seven Clemson students to have ever received the scholarship.

She was nominated by faculty across many disciplines, including those from the departments of biological sciences, mathematical sciences, genetics and biochemistry, physics and astronomy, chemical and biomolecular engineering, and materials science and engineering. Only two students can be nominated each year from participating universities, of which only one student can receive the award.

Doug Bielenberg, associate professor in the department of biological sciences in the College of Science, was on Seluzicki’s nominating committee.

“Caitlin is a wonderful example of a well-rounded and engaged student who not only has excelled in the research lab, but also in activities that bridge into history and political science,” Bielenberg said.

Seluzicki will spend her summer interning at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, studying the processes necessary to keep cells living, which will aid in her future studies. As an affiliate of the University of Chicago and one of the premier institutions for scientific inquiry, the MBL offers educational courses year-round for K-12, undergraduate and graduate students. Seluzicki will work as the assistant for the MBL’s physiology course. After graduating from Clemson, Seluzicki plans to attend graduate school to pursue developmental neuroscience research.