Arianna Krinos wins Astronaut Scholarship Foundation award for second consecutive year

Arianna KrinosFor the second year in a row, Arianna Krinos, a senior triple majoring in biological sciences, computer science, and computational modeling and data analytics at Virginia Tech, has won the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation award, established by members of the famed Mercury 7 team.

Krinos of Tampa, Florida, is the only Virginia Tech student to receive the award, worth $10,000. She will be presented with the scholarship on Thursday, Nov. 15, by former NASA astronaut Michael J. McCulley, who will then give a guest lecture that is open to the public. The event takes place at 7 p.m. at Holtzman Alumni Center Assembly Hall and is sponsored by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. The scholarship is again being funded by Des Welch in honor of his late wife, Danniella Mellissa Muheim. She was an alumna of the Virginia Tech College of Engineering.

She has had a stellar year in her research that combines computer science and biological science through the use of computer models and quantitative tools, using data science to predict changes in freshwater ecosystems. Both the Department of Biological Sciences and the computational modeling and data analytics program are part of the Virginia Tech College of Science. The Department of Computer Science is part of the College of Engineering.

“The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation is incredibly supportive, and it was a fantastic experience to attend the Innovators Gala for the second year in August,” Krinos said. “This year, instead of doing the tour at NASA, we actually did more government-centered activities, including a tour of the Capitol Building. We were able to watch the Senate in session, which was a tremendous learning experience; the ASF was really keen on giving us a policy-focused perspective to complement our science.”

In addition to the ASF awards, Krinos won a 2018 Goldwater Scholarship in April and was part of an undergraduate team of two to be named Outstanding Winners in the 2018 Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications’ Mathematical Contest in Modeling this past summer at the Mathematical Association of America’s MathFest. Her summer also included an internship with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey.

Additionally, she now serves as editor-in-chief of Engineers’ Forum at Virginia Tech, a 37-year-old student-run engineering magazine on campus, and led a booth focusing on writing for engineering and the sciences at the Virginia Tech Science Festival. She also has led outreach efforts with Wythe County middle school girls, teaching a workshop on water quality technology and coding. She is now applying to graduate schools to pursue research in oceanography related to environmental change.

Krinos’ year of successes has made her think of her future career as a woman in STEM –- science, technology, engineering, and math. “Being a woman in STEM means the most to me in computer science,” she said. “For a long time, I didn’t believe I was good enough to be a skilled programmer or to understand the logic of algorithm design because I felt like I was so behind my male peers.”

“More than anything I have learned it’s okay to be unsure of how to do something,” she added. “A lot of women in STEM, myself included, go through something akin to imposter syndrome when they don’t understand a concept or don’t feel quite as confident about how to do or learn something in science. It’s incredibly important to be a lifelong learner and to consider all viewpoints in science. We’re never going to have all the answers, but that doesn’t mean we should stop believing in ourselves.”

Krinos became involved in her current research during her sophomore year under the direction of Cayelan Carey, an assistant professor of biological sciences. Krinos is also part of the Virginia Tech Honors College.

“Arianna is a quintessential scientist,” said Mark Embree, head of the computational modeling and data analytics program and a professor in the Department of Mathematics. “In just a few moments of conversation you see that she is a deep thinker with great curiosity about how the world works. She has charted a distinctive course through Virginia Tech that has equipped her to use science to address significant problems.”

McCulley (Captain U.S. Navy, retired) was pilot on the Atlantis mission, which launched Oct. 18, 1989, and returned on Oct. 23, 1989. During that period, according to a NASA biography, the crew deployed the Galileo spacecraft on its journey to explore Jupiter, mapped atmospheric ozone on Earth, and performed experiments that ranged from radiation measurements to polymer morphology to microgravity effects on plants. His talk will focus on what it’s like to fly on a Space Shuttle.

Muheim earned a master’s degree in engineering mechanics, and completed all work for her Ph.D. in the same field except for a dissertation defense. She later worked at NASA Langley Research Center and then NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Muheim died in fall 2015.

According to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation website, more than $4 million in scholarships have been awarded since 1984 when the nonprofit was created by the surviving Mercury astronauts.

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