Michaela Hemming

Michaela Hemming has qualified for two U.S. Department of Defense scholarships and one from NASA.

Michael Mercier / UAH

A graduate student in aerospace systems engineering at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) has been accepted to a trifecta of competitive national graduate scholarships.

Michaela Hemming has qualified for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) fellowship and DoD’s Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) scholarship, as well as the NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunities (NSTGRO). Each begins in the fall semester.

"I heard from NDSEG and immediately felt a sense of relief knowing that my graduate research is funded. Then on the same day within the same hour, I heard from SMART and NSTGRO," Hemming says.

"They are all exciting opportunities and I am honored to be selected for even one," she says. "While I was excited to be accepted, I now have a big decision to make. That has added a level of stress to it all – I want to make sure I pick the best opportunity for me."

From Fort Dodge, Iowa, Hemming is in her second year pursuing a master’s degree in aerospace systems engineering (MSASE) at UAH, a part of the University of Alabama System. En route to a doctorate, she’s a graduate research assistant in UAH’s Propulsion Research Center (PRC) and is advised by Dr. Gabe Xu, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

"Michaela is currently working on her MSASE degree studying the effect of plasma discharges on detonation waves using a linear detonation tube experiment," Dr. Xu says. "She should be done this summer and will progress to her PhD project in rotating detonation engines. For her PhD, she will be studying the effect of injector designs on propellant mixing, atomization, detonation wave propagation and engine performance."

Hemming has also been mentored by Dr. Levon Gevorkyan and Dr. Robert Driscoll at The Aerospace Corp., who wrote recommendation letters for her applications. In addition to her graduate work, Hemming is working with her step-father, Kevin Friesth, on the beginning stages of standing up a launch vehicle company using recyclable, additively manufactured engines for propulsion.

"He was the one who convinced me to pursue an engineering degree way back in high school," she says. "He is taking his experience building small scale engines in his garage and my formal engineering experience to design and build a liquid rocket engine. His focus now is on materials engineering and more specifically additive manufacturing, so while I work through the design cycle of the engine, it can be easily and quickly built, tested and revised."

Friesth is pursuing funding for a 3D printer while Hemming works on the first design iteration, though she says full-time graduate work has slowed the process.

"These fellowships will be very helpful in refining my proposal writing skills," Hemming says. "It’s also a great way to gain contacts in the industry we are hoping to participate in."

She has begun a process to decide which scholastic opportunity she will accept.

"Each of the fellowships come with their own benefits and opportunities for professional development," Hemming says. "I am taking into account suggestions from advisors, peers and mentors on what to look for with each fellowship, and how it might help my future career. I am lucky enough to know of at least one person who has participated in each program, so I am reaching out to hear what they thought about their experience."

Dr. Xu says that winning multiple graduate fellowships means Hemming’s scores, essay and proposal were universally well done and appealed to both DoD and NASA, which often have different interests and missions.

"It's a credit to all the work she has done in her academic career and in writing the application," says Dr. Xu. "She has a bright future ahead of her and I'm glad these programs saw it and decided to support her."

Hemming says a program with mentorship and internship opportunities would be great for making contacts with and learning from professionals conducting similar research.

"These fellowships also promote conference attendance which is great for enhancing my abilities as a researcher to communicate my findings and solicit feedback from peers," she says. "I am looking for a program that will challenge me."

More about the scholarships:

  • The DoD sponsors the NDSEG fellowship, which awards U.S. citizens and nationals who pursue a doctoral degree in one of 15 supported disciplines at a U.S. institution of their choosing. NDSEG fellowships last for up to three years, based on continued funding, and cover full tuition and mandatory fees, as well as a monthly stipend and medical insurance. The NDSEG Fellowship is sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Army Research Office and the Office of Naval Research under the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.
  • Also funded by the DoD, SMART is a combined educational and workforce development opportunity for bachelors, masters and doctoral students to gain technical skills in critical STEM fields and support the national security mission of the DoD. With a full scholarship, students pursuing STEM degrees will be able to focus on complex research to further the DoD’s mission and create lasting impact. SMART is a one-for-one commitment. For every year of degree funding, the scholar commits to working for a year for the DoD as a civilian employee. SMART includes an experienced mentor, full tuition, summer internships, an annual stipend, health insurance and employment at a DoD facility.
  • NASA’s Space Technology Mission directorate sponsors graduate students with significant potential to contribute to NASA’s goals through NSTGRO. NASA Space Technology Graduate Researchers perform innovative space technology research at their respective campuses and at NASA centers. Grants are made to accredited U.S. universities on behalf of individuals pursuing master’s or doctoral degrees, with the faculty advisor serving as the principal investigator. Each student is matched with a technically relevant and community-engaged NASA Subject Matter Expert, who will serve as the student’s research collaborator.