Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Chats with ERAU Students

Nicole Stott, Ron Garan, and Alvin Drew Share About the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation

By Ty Holbrook, Correspondent

 Students at Embry-Riddle got to join a virtual video panel discussion with representatives of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) on Nov. 19. Joining the discussion were astronauts and members of the ASF Nicole Stott, Ron Garan, and Alvin “Al” Drew. Stottand Drewboth flew together on the last flight of space shuttle Discovery. Stott and Garan also got to represent Embry Riddle on a 18-day undersea mission in an aqueous habitat off the coast of Key Largo, Fla. 

“The ASF was formed by the Mercury VII astronauts and the scholarship program has carried on in their legacy and for all astronauts, so we’re very happy to be a part of it,” said Stott. The ASF is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that provides annually more than 50 scholarships to the brightest and most talented college students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Students at Embry-Riddle can now also obtain this scholarship thanks to the help of Preston Root. Nicole emphasizes that, “Preston and his family, I know, have been generous supporters of the Daytona Beach community just in general”. He is president of the Root Family Board of Directors, which in 1950 became the largest independent bottlers of Coca-Cola in the United States, and he has also served on the board of directors for the YMCA of Volusia County, Museum of Arts and Sciences of Daytona Beach, and The Arc of Volusia and Flagler Counties; in 2010 he was named the “Top Volunteer in the State of Florida” by The Arc.

Students at Embry Riddle got the chance to ask the astronauts questions. Common questions were about the schooling, process, and experience of being an astronaut. All three of these astronauts took different paths to becoming astronauts, but all of them went through ERAU. Garan was originally an undergraduate student in New York majoring in Business Economics who had a lifelong dream of becoming an astronaut. When he graduated High School in Yonkers, New York, the timing wasn’t conducive to new astronaut programs; it was after Skylab and before the Space Shuttle missions. After witnessing the first Space Shuttle launch in 1981, Garan started taking all math and science electives and finished his degree then applied to Embry Riddle and started his pursuit of an aerospace engineering degree by joining the Air Force.

Col. Drew is a United States Air Force officer and astronaut who has been on two space flights and has spent almost a year in Russia as a director of operations overseeing the operations at Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center. According to NASA’s website, Drew has wanted to fly in space since he was five and a half years old. In his early days of grade school he frowned upon math until his principal showed his class the Apollo 8 launch. He fell in love with the idea of going to the Moon. He started studying hard in math and science and eventually went to the University of Delaware and the Air Force Academy becoming a physics major in order to become a test pilot. When he was up for a promotion the Air Force required that he had a master’s degree, so when he made his choice of which school to go to, he chose Embry Riddle and got his master’s degree in Aeronautical Science. Soon he became a test pilot and then an astronaut.

Nicole Stott is the only one out of the three astronauts in this discussion that went the civilian route. Her favorite accomplishment was that she was the first person to make a watercolor painting in space. Stott says that she got her ambitions and interests from her parents. Her mother was heavily into arts and crafts while her father built and flew small airplanes. She states that while she wanted to fly herself, she became even more interested in how things fly, which led her to Embry Riddle. This  grew into an interest in rockets,  which made her want to become an Engineer for NASA during the Space Shuttle program; it wasn’t until later while she was working at Kennedy Space Center that she wanted to become an astronaut.

An old saying goes, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” With hybrid courses and COVID-19, our college experience may be difficult, but there are always multiple paths to your dreams and these astronauts can prove it. 

 The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation awards more than 50 scholarships of up to $15,000 per student. Applicants must be attending and nominated by one of the participating colleges or universities. The application for the 2021 scholarship class is expected to open early next year.