U student receives national scholarship

Alex Kosset was recognized for his academic work in the engineering field.

Courtney Blanchard

When mechanical engineering junior Alex Kosset received an envelope in the mail with the return address “Astronaut Scholarship Foundation,” he said he had a hunch what it was.

Kosset opened the envelope and learned that he is one of 18 students across the nation to receive the $10,000 scholarship sponsored by former astronauts.

“I don’t really get super excited about things Ö I opened it up and was like, ‘Hey, that’s cool, I won,’ ” he said.

Kosset’s nonchalant attitude is reflective of the academic work he is recognized for: robotics. Of the several projects he’s worked on in his two years at the University, one includes building an 8-inch tall robot that can follow a path drawn on paper.

Kosset displayed the robot at the mechanical engineering department’s annual robot show in December.

Mechanical engineering professor Caroline Hayes said she’s judged the robot show for almost eight years. She said the robots that get the best grades generally are judged on the quality of the design, not necessarily the uniqueness of the design.

“There’s typically a whole gamut of robots at the show,” Hayes said.

What makes robots like Kosset’s successful, she said, is the ability to make a creative design within the constraints of time, money and experience.

Kosset is working on a project with computer science and engineering professor Nikolaos Papanikolopoulos and doctoral candidate Ian Burt.

Burt said the purpose of the project is to redesign an educational robot, focusing on the mechanical layout of parts, the dynamics of how it will move and computer vision. Burt said Kosset is well-suited for the work because he devotes a lot of time to it and is involved in many extracurricular activities.

“He really likes what he does and he’s interested in it Ö that’s the kind of enthusiasm that makes a person successful,” Burt said.

Burt added that work in robotics can be more challenging than other fields in engineering.

“It’s just a little different area because it focuses on a lot of different mechanics,” he said. “You need to know a little about a lot of other fields.”

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation recognizes students like Kosset who “exhibit motivation, imagination and exceptional performance in the science or engineering field,” according to the foundation’s Web site.

The six surviving Mercury astronauts established the foundation in 1984. Since then, the awards have grown as new astronauts join. According to the Web site, money is raised through donations, events and astronaut appearances.

One scholarship is awarded to each of the 18 schools eligible to receive the award. Mechanical engineering professors William Durfee and Rajesh Rajamani nominated Kosset.

Now that Kosset has the recognition of some of America’s top astronauts, he said it would be nice to work on some of NASA’s projects, like a Mars rover. But he didn’t seem too excited by it.

The robotics student repeated cooly, “If I had a chance to work on a NASA project, I might.”