CLOQUET — A 2019 Barnum High School graduate received the Distinguished Astronaut Scholarship while studying at North Dakota State University.
Max Salzer, who will be a senior in the fall, said receiving the merit-based scholarship was exciting and he looks forward to the benefits it will bring.
“For one thing, they pair you with a mentor of your choice, so someone who’s either an Astronaut Scholar alumnus or a NASA engineer,” he said. “Just to ask them questions and make connections to what they’re doing in the industry.”
Salzer, who majors in mechanical engineering, became interested in engineering while working on Barnum’s family farm. On the farm, Salzer worked with machines and learned to solve problems.
“From an early age, I loved solving problems,” he said.
While he first went to NDSU to study agricultural engineering, he said he switched to mechanical engineering and traded his minor several times before finally landing on robotics.
Salzer said he made the switch because he felt mechanical engineering was more aligned with what he wanted to pursue in his career.
According to an NDSU press release, the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation was created to ensure that the United States maintains its leadership in science and technology by supporting some of the best science, technology, engineering, and math students.
The foundation awarded its first seven scholarships in 1986 when each Mercury 7 founding astronaut sponsored a $1,000 scholarship. The foundation now awards more than 60 scholarships worth up to $15,000 to each recipient.
In the press release, NDSU Provost Margaret Fitzgerald said the scholarship is an important national recognition of Salzer’s accomplishments.
“We are proud of his accomplishments and delighted that he has received this remarkable recognition of his talents,” she said.
Keerthi Nawarathna, a faculty member in the provost’s office and an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, added that Salzer had been selected from the “elite group of students” from 40 schools across the country.
“Internal selection at NDSU was very difficult this year, as NDSU received nominations from a large group of talented students,” he said.
Although Salzer has already received the scholarship, he will travel to Orlando, Florida in August to accept it, showcase his work and meet other recipients and alumni. Salzer said he looks forward to this opportunity as it will give him the opportunity to meet some of his fellow recipients and present the research he has been working on.
At NDSU, Salzer worked part-time and full-time as an undergraduate research assistant. One project was to convert agricultural waste into higher value and sustainable products.
“As a research assistant, we identify problems and offer solutions and help the world be more economical or more sustainable in the future,” he said. “It was a really good fit with the Astronaut Scholarship.”
He is also currently an intern in the Twin Cities for Abbott, a medical technology company, where he is part of a team developing a next-generation type of catheter.
“This summer has been an amazing experience. Abbott has an amazing internship program,” he said.
Salzer is on track to graduate in the spring of 2023 and said he hopes to work in the field of biomedical engineering for a few years before pursuing master’s and doctoral studies.
As he seeks new opportunities, he added that the scholarship could help open more doors.
“This is a very well-known fellowship,” he said.
Salzer also offered advice for students who might follow a similar route in engineering.
“Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something new,” he said. “Ask for big scholarships – you never know what might happen.”