room view of prc 30th anniversary banquet

Propulsion Research Center holds 30th anniversary dinner in the ballroom of UAH Student Services Building.

Michael Mercier | UAH

The Propulsion Research Center (PRC) at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of The University of Alabama System, celebrated its 30th anniversary with a banquet on April 14 and a Propulsion Symposium and cookout on April 15. Over 75 alumni returned for the weekend’s events, some from as far away as California, Washington state, and Florida.

The banquet featured PRC alumni reports and recognition of alumni. Dr. Robert Frederick, Director of the PRC, emceed the event. In his opening speech, Dr. Frederick said, “The theme of my tenure as Director of the UAH PRC has been to keep your relationships more important than tasks or problems.” He went on to add, “Quality students, faculty, and alumni rely on the secret sauce of good relationships,” and this theme was carried out through the night. Alumni spoke about how UAH positively impacted their lives and their careers, and many noted the personalized support and encouragement provided to them by the PRC’s founding Director, Dr. Charles W. Hawk, and “Dr. Bob.”

Charles Karr and Lafreeda Jordan

(L – R) UAH Interim President Dr. Charles L. Karr, alumna Tryshanda Moton, UAH Chief External Affairs Officer, Lafreeda Jordan.

Michael Mercier / UAH

Undergraduate alumni speakers included Dayna Schoffstoll Ise (B.S., Mechanical Engineering, 1999) and Dr. Michelle Christensen (B.S., Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, 2006). Ise works for NASA at Marshall Space Flight Center as the Manager of Space Nuclear Propulsion, and she noted during her speech that “It gives me a sense of joy to be able to give back to the Center that has helped me so much.”

Dr. Christensen spoke next, and although she moved away after receiving her undergraduate degree at UAH, she observed, “Every time I come back to Huntsville it feels like home.” Dr. Christensen now works for Blue Origin as a Senior Technical Project Manager for the New Shepard Mission and Flight Operations. She said of PRC, “When I look back on my time here, I gained a lot of technical knowledge, but the most valuable thing was the professional network I built here.”

Michelle Christensen

Alumna Dr. Michelle Christensen, Blue Origin.

Michael Mercier / UAH

Graduate alumni speakers included Dr. Chris Brophy (Ph.D., Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, 1997), Tryshanda Moton (M.S., Aerospace Engineering, 2001), and Mike Wicks (M.S., Mechanical Engineering, 1993). Dr. Brophy currently works at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, as an Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Dr. Brophy was one of the first cohort of Ph.D. students who graduated with support from the PRC, and he valued the close working relationships. “When I came to UAH, it was like a family environment,” Dr. Brophy said during his speech. “I never had a lack of support.”

Tryshanda Moton, who was the first African American woman to earn a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Alabama (UA), spoke next. Moton works as a Senior Aerospace Engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. When talking about how she created YouTube videos to help kids learn math and science concepts, Moton said, “It was exciting to find a way to give back, and I’d encourage you to find ways and areas you can help kids learn and appreciate what we do.”

Mr. Wicks was the final graduate alumni speaker. He began his career as a Mechanical Engineer and founded several businesses before investing in a cancer research company called Diakanos Research, where he currently serves as president. During his speech, Mr. Wicks celebrated Dr. Frederick’s leadership: “I can’t say enough about Dr. Bob. He deserves a lot of credit for his selfless leadership and the extra effort he puts in to provide enriching experiences. You’re in the presence of someone who knows everyone’s name, gives clear metrics of how to win and explains why the work is relevant.”

Mike Wick

Alumnus Mike Wick, Diakonos Research.

Michael Mercier / UAH

Kent Chojnacki (M.S., Mechanical Engineering, 1993; Ph.D., Mechanical Engineering, 1997), a Senior Executive Service manager of the Systems Engineering and Integration Office at MSFC, made an impromptu speech about how he came to study at UAH and his fond memories of Dr. Hawk. “Dr. Hawk formed PRC and the social network that has led us here tonight,” Chojnacki asserted. “Dr. Hawk set the stage for this room tonight.”

After the alumni spoke, Dr. Frederick reinstated a practice begun by Dr. Hawk by awarding Evan Unruh (M.S., Mechanical Engineering, 2021) the PRC Director’s Hard Charger Award. Unruh received his award as recognition of a job well done, especially for his work that assisted Dr. Gabe Xu in receiving a $1.5 million grant from the University Consortium for Applied Hypersonics and for his support of Dr. Frederick in student coursework during the pandemic. Unruh now works for Aerojet Rocketdyne.

Evn Unruh and Robert Frederick

(L – R), Evan Unruh, “Hard Charger” award recipient, and Director of UAH Propulsion Research Center, Dr. Robert Frederick.

Michael Mercier / UAH

Prior to the banquet’s close, Dr. Frederick took a moment to talk about Claire-Isabelle Staschus, a PRC Ph.D. student who passed away in 2017. The Claire-Isabelle Staschus Memorial Scholarship was created to establish a legacy that represents Claire’s passion for learning and all things propulsion. To endow the scholarship, a goal of $25,000 by the end of 2022 has been set. Dr. Frederick reminded the audience that gifts of any size will help this scholarship reach that goal and provide perpetual support to undergraduate or graduate students pursuing a degree in Mechanical and/or Aerospace Engineering with an interest in propulsion. Dr. Frederick noted, “This scholarship not only honors the memory of her passion for UAH and propulsion, but it will become a strategic investment in helping future students who have that same passion.”

Dr. Frederick ended the event by thanking the UAH faculty, staff and administrators who put in long hours to make the event happen, to the alumni and current students who “have the passion to make all these accomplishments possible,” and “to the many agencies who have entrusted us to perform research projects over this past 30 years."

Claire Staschus

Claire-Isabelle Staschus Memorial Scholarship honoring Claire Staschus (pictured above).

Michael Mercier / UAH

The Symposium in Charger Union Theater on April 15 paired current UAH PRC students with PRC alumni and had them present propulsion-related research in both the university and industry settings. Afterwards, attendees enjoyed a cookout and joined tours of Johnson Research Center. Dr. Frederick says events like the 30th Anniversary Celebration strengthen the relationships among the PRC’s alumni, faculty, staff, students, stakeholders and their families: "The alumni speakers at the banquet were fantastic and provided us great insights about how their UAH experiences have helped them succeed in the professional workplace. Our alumni also presented joint technical talks with current students at our Propulsion Symposium. The picnic was great fun and gave our guests a look at some of the newer buildings on campus, as well as our current test facilities."

Your gift today propels tomorrow’s students forward. By making a gift of any size to the Claire-Isabelle Staschus Memorial Scholarship, you are moving the scholarship one step closer to providing perpetual support for future students with a passion for propulsion.


Thank you

Thank you to our 30th Anniversary Corporate and Foundation Partners for making this celebration possible!

Blue Origin Logo.

Wicks Family

Aerojet Rocketdyne Logo.
Jacobs Space Exploration Group Logo.
TriVector Services Inc Logo.
N2L logo



Dr. Robert Frederick

Jenn Memolo