Skip to main content

Three Boilermakers Named Astronaut Scholars

Sep 24, 2021

Astronaut Scholars

For three ambitious students, hard work and persistence are paying off in big ways. Not only have they been rewarded for their research and academic achievements, they are also now a part of a prestigious group of innovators and industry pioneers. All this, before they even finish their time in the classroom.

Astro ScholarsSeniors Joseph Kirchhoff, John Putziger and Abigail Sipes are recipients of the 2021 Astronaut Scholarship. The honor will provide them with up to $15,000 toward tuition, books and fees and an important boost in their career pursuits.

Founded in 1984 by the six surviving Mercury 7 astronauts, the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation honor is known nationwide for being among the highest merit-based monetary scholarships awarded to undergraduate students in science, technology, engineering and math. The scholarships are awarded to students in their junior and senior years of college. The ASF has awarded an Astronaut Scholarship to a Purdue student since 1987. 

This year’s Astronaut Scholarship recipients include Joseph Kirchhoff in the College of Engineering and Honors College; John Putziger in the College of Science and Honors College; and Abigail Sipes in the College of Agriculture.

The newest scholars were honored at the Innovator’s Gala in Orlando, Florida. Learn more about Purdue’s newest recipients below:

Joseph Kirchoff
Joseph Kirchhoff

Kirchhoff of Southport, North Carolina, is a senior in the College of Engineering with a major in aeronautical and astronautical engineering. He is the recipient of the Astronaut Scholarship sponsored by Jim Hays in memory of Gene Cernan.

As an undergraduate student, Kirchhoff has numerous accomplishments. He has participated in research with the Composites Manufacturing and Simulation Center, where he focused on composite simulations and modeling; and the Space Flights Project Laboratory, focusing on advanced space systems and in-flight automations. He has also worked as an intern for the Boeing Co. at its Washington and South Carolina locations.

 “I have been impressed by his vision to drive the future of composites in aerospace by improving their predictability and reliability,” said R. Byron Pipes, professor of engineering.

Kirchhoff’s academic honors include the Bruce Helfert Memorial Award as an outstanding junior in Purdue’s College of Science or Engineering; Tau Beta Pi induction, of which he was nominated for distinguished academic performance and exemplary character; and induction into the honor society Sigma Gamma Tau.

Kirchhoff has served as student director of the Boilers In Action service organization and as Industrial Relations Committee head for Sigma Gamma Tau Honor Society.

 “The scholarship is a way to identify leadership in STEM and give them a resource to pursue their dreams,” Kirchhoff said.

He plans to earn a Ph.D. in computational engineering and wants to “take machine learning and artificial intelligence and apply it to making better tools for engineers to design composites.

John PutzigerJohn Putziger

Putziger is a senior in the College of Science and the Honors College. From Falls Church, Virginia, he is majoring in chemistry (ACS) and minoring in political science. His Astronaut Scholarship is sponsored by Marc and Sharon Hagle.

Putziger explained his excitement about the opportunity to network with other astronaut scholars and hear from key individuals in the industry at the gala.

“We were able to communicate with and get better insight from some of the other students who were around, but were also able to hear wonderful presentations by people like Jerry Griffin, who is the former flight coordinator during the Apollo era, and also from Neil Armstrong’s sons,” he says.

A chemist in the making, Putziger plans to attend graduate school to study the use of organic metallic materials to create new reaction pathways. His undergraduate research includes work with the Jianguo Mei Research Group since 2018. He has also been an active mentor in the College of Science as a chemistry tutor and undergraduate teaching assistant in the physics.

Putziger’s honors include the Wollinsky Fellowship, the Wendell and Marcia Dilling Scholarship, the Stuart and Tobias Memorial Award, the Outstanding Chemistry Sophomore, and the STEM Naval Horizons award, all for his outstanding work in the field of chemistry research.

Putziger is also heavily involved in student life, with membership in a variety of clubs and activities. Included are the Purdue Overwatch Club and Project X safe campus consulting. He also participated in a study abroad program in Bogotá, Colombia, to study science and social progress


Abigail SipesAbigail Sipes

Sipes of Honolulu is a senior in the College of Agriculture pursuing a major in biochemistry. She is the recipient of the Astronaut Scholarship sponsored The CoveyLove Legacy Fund. Research has been a priority for Sipes throughout her undergraduate years. She has worked on numerous projects as a research assistant at the University of Hawaii and the University of Hawaii Cancer Research Center in Honolulu. There, she assisted in the development of therapeutic treatment for cancer patients, characterizing tumor cells and further work on understanding tumor progression. Sipes worked as a research assistant at Purdue, conducting research involving T-DNA mutants to understand arabidopsis gene functions, and organized streamlined research efforts for seven undergraduates. Sipes continued her research work as an intern for Bayer Pharmaceuticals this summer.

Sipes plans to use her experience to continue a path toward work in oncology and plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical science.

 “I’m leaning toward immune oncology, using the immune system to help fight off cancer,” she says.

As a person driven to improve people’s health, Sipes has served as the Timmy Global Health Advocacy chair at Purdue. She has co-chaired the Biochemistry Club outreach. She’s also been an active participant in Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, the ACS Graduate School Readiness and Professional Development Bootcamp, and served as a team leader for Boiler Gold Rush.

Sipes has earned several academic awards and scholarships. She is especially thankful for the Astronaut Scholarship and the opportunity to attend the gala where she says; “I met so many amazing people. I’m definitely going to keep in contact with them.”

The National and International Scholarships Office (NISO), which is housed in the Honors College, supports all Purdue students in applying for prestigious scholarships. Students interested in such awards are encouraged to reach out to the NISO office by email at, or to visit the NISO website at

Writer and media contact: Leslie Valiant