Fernando, Roleck Represent Purdue University as Astronaut Scholars

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue Honors College and College of Science students Chrishan Fernando and Caleigh Roleck were honored by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation at the 2018 Innovators Gala in Washington D.C. on August 25. Each earned a 2018-19 Astronaut Scholarship as undergraduates studying science, technology, engineering or math while exhibiting initiative, creativity and academic excellence.

Astronaut Scholars Chrishan Fernando and Caleigh Roleck

“Caleigh and Chrishan are the embodiments of students who make the most of their undergraduate education by taking advantage of what Purdue offers them beyond classwork,” said Assistant Dean for the National and International Scholarships Office Rosanne Altstatt. “Each of them is steeped in undergraduate, scientific research while bringing creativity and an innovative spirit to their many pursuits. Purdue students received not one but two Astronaut Scholarships this year, which demonstrates a national recognition of an excellent education for undergraduate STEM students.”

Roleck and Fernando, along with 48 additional Astronaut Scholars from around the United States, were welcomed to the program at the 2018 Innovators Gala. The gala included remarks from Gemini and Apollo Astronaut David Scott and Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael D. Griffin. Additionally, the 2018 Neil Armstrong Award of Excellence, provided in part through a partnership with the Purdue Research Foundation, was presented during the event.

Fernando is pursuing a degree in biochemistry and dual minors in economics and mathematics. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in molecular sciences and then to go on to a career in research and teaching. Since enrolling at Purdue, Fernando has worked as an undergraduate research assistant at the Tran Laboratory in Purdue’s Department of Biochemistry, a summer research student at the University of Tennessee and a research assistant at Eli Lilly and Company.

“The Astronaut Scholarship is all about promoting undergraduate research,” said Fernando, “and I eventually want to go into a career in research. The Astronaut Scholarship program works to build a connection between the students and the foundation, and the mentorship provided will assist me as I work to achieve my goals.”

A native of Carmel, Ind., Fernando is the Founder and Chair of the Purdue Student Government Committee on Sexual Assault and Misconduct and served as a senator on the Purdue Student Government. He is the President of the Purdue Science Student Council, which works “to provide academically oriented services to the students of the College of Science and to promote professional growth amongst Science students.”

Roleck is a two-time Astronaut Scholar, having earned this distinction in 2017 as well. She is studying biochemistry and pursuing a minor in statistics and biotechnology. She aspires to have a career that will involve conducting research that can be applied to solve national and global problems. Her academic interests include the investigation of biofuel production, biosensing, biomanufacturing and combating antibiotic resistance. Roleck is a researcher at the Gelvin laboratory in Purdue’s Department of Biological Sciences.

“The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation is devoted to preparing their scholars to having their maximum career potential,” said Roleck. “They help us work on how we present our research and professional presence. We also have mentors that we first meet at the Gala, but then we work with them throughout the year.”

The Naperville, Ill. native is the President of Purdue Students for Responsible Science and Engineering, a group that “seeks to ensure social and ethical responsibility in science and technology.” Roleck also serves as the Director of Science for Purdue Biomakers, Purdue University’s International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition team. She has participated in the iGEM competition with Purdue Biomakers each year since 2016, and was the project manager for iGEM’s synthetic biology research project in 2017.

To earn an Astronaut Scholarship, a student must be nominated by a University-wide Purdue committee and apply through the National and International Scholarships Office, housed in Purdue Honors College. Informational sessions for sophomore and junior applicants will be held later this month.