Jim Owens, a senior majoring in chemical engineering at Virginia Tech, has been awarded with the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Scholarship, established by the six surviving Mercury 7 astronauts.

The scholarship, funded by Des Welch in honor of his late wife, Danniella Mellissa Muheim, an alumna of the Virginia Tech College of Engineering, will be presented to Owens on Nov. 15.

NASA astronaut Daniel C. Brandenstein will present Owens with the award and deliver a guest lecture at 7 p.m. at the Holtzman Alumni Center Assembly Hall. The event is open to the public.

Owens, also a member of the Virginia Tech Honors College and recipient of an Odyssey Fellowship, became involved in polymer based research during his freshman year under the guidance of Michael Bortner, assistant professor of chemical engineering.

“James is an extremely capable, bright, and hardworking student,” said Bortner. “Through his research with me over the course of five semesters, he has thoroughly impressed me with his ability to grasp and master extremely challenging concepts in very short time, while simultaneously remaining humble, respectful, and appreciative of opportunities presented to him.”

The scholarship of $10,000 is awarded to students in their junior and senior year of college studying science, technology, engineering, or mathematics with the intent to pursue research or advance their field upon completion of their final degree.

In addition to the monetary award, scholars were invited to attend the annual Innovators Weekend in Washington, D.C, which took place in August. There, scholars attended professional development workshops, toured the National Institutes of Health, presented their research, and heard from NASA astronauts.

“It was definitely intimidating, at first, to meet the astronauts and to have them be so interested in our backgrounds and interests,” said Owens. “After a while, everyone got to know each other and it made for a weekend that I will never forget. The astronauts’ and foundation’s genuine commitment to our development is extremely humbling and a validation of the path that I have set out on.”

In addition to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation award, Owens is the recipient of a 2019 Goldwater Scholarship and a member of the Virginia Tech Chem-E-Car Team. The team was the winner of the top prize for the Chem-E Car Competition that was awarded at the 2019 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Mid-Atlantic Regional Student Conference at Pennsylvania State University.

Additionally, Owens serves as president of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers student chapter at Virginia Tech, which was recognized as an Outstanding Student Chapter for 2018-19. The chapter won a successful bid and will host the 2020 AIChE Mid-Atlantic Regional Student Conference at Squires Student Center, April 24-25, 2020.

Earlier this year, Owens was awarded the prestigious AIChE Donald F. and Mildred Topp Othmer Scholarship that recognizes academic achievement and involvement in student chapter activities.

Most recently, the undergraduate chemical engineering student was identified as a Future Leader in Chemical Engineering at N.C. State University. The honor provides a platform to undergraduate researchers for presenting their work and to be recognized for their achievements and growth as future leaders in chemical and biomolecular engineering.

- Written by Tina Russell


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