Shae Henley (left) wins 2023 USRA Award Recognizing Academic Excellence

Shae Henley (left) wins 2023 USRA Award Recognizing Academic Excellence

Dec. 11, 2023
Four USRA 2023 winners.

USRA Announces 2023 Distinguished Undergraduate Award Winners Recognizing Academic Excellence

Washington, D.C.–December 11, 2023.  Universities Space Research Association (USRA) proudly unveiled today the winners of the prestigious 2023 USRA Distinguished Undergraduate Awards. Far from mere accolades, these awards are a testament to the boundless potential that the future of science and engineering holds.

USRA’s commitment to excellence reflects itself in these prestigious awards which recognize outstanding undergraduate students across diverse majors. These exceptional individuals have been selected through a rigorous and highly competitive process, celebrating their innovative problem-solving abilities, leadership qualities, dedication to promoting diversity science and engineering, and their potential to make significant contributions to their respective fields.

Dr. Jeffrey Isaacson, President and CEO of USRA stated, “These students serve as an inspiration to all. As we recognize their achievements, we look forward to witnessing the transformative contributions they will make to their fields and to the advancement of science and technology. Congratulations to the 2023 Distinguished Undergraduate Award winners!“

The USRA 2023 Distinguished Undergraduate Award winners, selected from a group of exceptional applicants are as follows:

  • Shae Henley, Aerospace Engineering, University of Arizona  
     -- Thomas R. McGetchin Memorial Scholarship
  • Madison VanWyngarden, Astrophysics and Physics, Boston University  
    -- James B. Willett Education Memorial Scholarship
  • Alicia Smith, Mechanical Engineering, University of Canterbury  
      --Frederick A. Tarantino Memorial Scholarship
  • Isabella (Bella) Macias, Astrophysics, University of Florida  
    --Judith L. Pipher Memorial Scholarship
  • Ashley Tirado Pujols, Aerospace Engineering, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University 
    --John. R. Sevier Memorial Scholarship

There were also several Honorable Mentions:

  • Juliane Hyvert, Mechanical Engineering, Northeastern University
  • Rafael Ortiz, Astrophysics, Arizona State University
  • Giana Perez, Astrophysics, Stanford University
  • Emma Kate Price, Mechanical Engineering, Harvard University
  • Stephanie Yoshida, Astrophysics, Harvard University

Established to honor the service and memory of individuals who made significant contributions to their fields and to USRA, these awards are made possible by financial contributions, including those made by USRA employees.

Faculty from USRA Member Universities review the applications for the Awards. They evaluate the students based on stated career goals and accomplishments, leadership qualities, outreach to their communities, and strengths such as initiative, creativity, and perseverance. Recommendation letters from their professors and intern advisors also play a significant role in the review.

From this pool of applicants, the four review committees--two for science applicants and two for engineering applicants—review the students’ dossiers and recommend the finalists. The USRA President and CEO selects the winners from among the finalists.

In 2023, USRA there were 98 eligible applicants from 52 different universities, including 10 applicants from non-US USRA members (one of which won).

For more information on the awards, please visit

About USRA

Founded in 1969, under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences at the request of the U.S. Government, the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) is a nonprofit corporation chartered to advance space-related science, technology and engineering. USRA operates scientific institutes and facilities, and  conducts other major research and educational programs. It engages the university community of 117 universities, employs in-house scientific leadership, and offers innovative research and development, and project management expertise. More information about USRA is available at