Jillian Yuricich, a fourth-year in aerospace engineering, dreams of being an astronaut — and that dream might have just gotten a little bit closer to reality.
Yuricich is the first-ever Ohio State student to be awarded a scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.
The foundation awards $10,000 to 30 students each year, Yuricich said. It was created by the Mercury 7 astronauts, including John Glenn, an astronaut and former Ohio senator.
The scholarship’s purpose is to encourage students to pursue scientific endeavors to keep America on the forefront of technology, according to the foundation website.
A student must be nominated by a professor to be considered as a candidate and they must be majoring in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics undergraduate program.
Yuricich was nominated by her thermodynamics professor, Mei Zhuang.
Zhuang said she was glad Yuricich received the scholarship and that she represents the program well.
“I was very pleased and happy for her. We are very proud of having her in our aerospace engineering program. The scholarship reflects well on Jillian, the aerospace program, and the university,” Zhuang said in an email.
Richard Freuler, a clinical professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, was not surprised Yuricich was awarded.
“She is success-driven and goal-orientated to the point that if she wants to make it happen, she is capable, qualified, talented enough to have a good shot at making it happen,” Freuler said.
Yuricich describes receiving the scholarship as a dream come true.
“All of the things that I thought were sort of out there in the clouds, sort of intangible dreams, all of the sudden are falling into place. Like every three months something big happens and it just reaffirms, not only that I am working hard, but for me to see the rewards, it is like things are coming together, and I can’t help to think that it has everything to do with Ohio State,” she said.
Yuricich seems to have worked hard to make her dreams a reality: she has completed three internships in her four years at OSU, with Rolls-Royce, NASA and the U.S. Navy.
Yuricich said her time with NASA really hit home because of her career aspirations.
“The word (NASA) holds a very special place in my heart, so to be able to say I was working at NASA was a blast,” she said.
While NASA was great for Yuricich, she said that it didn’t all come together until her time at the Navy designing aircraft at the conceptual level.
“To be able to combine the engineering work I have been doing over the past two years and my art background, to be able to design aircraft was something, I didn’t think that job existed, I didn’t think that something that cool existed,” she said. “So the Navy kinda came home and rounded it all out so I found the best of everything. It was a blast.”
Yuricich is hoping to join the ranks of only 58 women who have traveled into space, but she does not want being a woman to define her achievements.
“I have never felt alienated in my major, I have never felt as though I didn’t belong. It is something where my interests are my interests. It’s never been, ‘Well, I haven’t seen a lot of girls building model airplanes with their dads, maybe I shouldn’t, maybe I should do some other female stereotypical activity.’ I just did what I wanted,” Yuricich said. “I don’t like that being the focus, I don’t need that to be about me being a female. I would rather it be about my motivation, my efforts.”
While Yuricich encourages females to pursue engineering and science related fields, she said she just wants everyone to follow their own passions.
“I do want women to be involved with engineering, but I also want women to be involved with whatever women want to be involved with. I want men to be involved in engineering, but I also want them to do whatever it is they feel like doing,” she said.
Despite her success, Yuricich said she is not perfect.
“I’m a perfectionist. I have trouble just letting go. I’m kinda tightly wound. So while I usually do good work, I sometimes overwork myself. I look at it as something I have to actively work at, something that I need to keep in check. Otherwise I would drive myself crazy,” she said. “I also have an addiction to football that sometimes gets in the way of real responsibilities like homework and laundry and calling my mom back.”