Over the moon: MSU’s first Astronaut Scholar grateful for prestigious award

Phong Ly (Photo by Beth Wynn)

Contact: Sasha Steinberg

STARKVILLE, Miss.—As Mississippi State University’s first Astronaut Scholarship recipient and one of only 50 across the U.S. this year, senior civil engineering major Phong C. Ly of Brandon feels like the luckiest guy in the universe.

Receiving a $10,000 merit-based award from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, Ly is pursuing an environmental engineering concentration through MSU’s James Worth Bagley College of Engineering. He also is a top student in the Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College, home to the university’s Office of Prestigious External Scholarships.

As part of the award, Ly is embarking this month on an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for ASF’s 2018 Innovators Gala featuring the Neil Armstrong Award of Excellence. There, he will interact with some of America’s pioneering astronauts, scientists, researchers and other innovators who are making an impact and advancing science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM fields.

Ly also may participate in ASF’s Innovative Leadership Mentor Program and have an astronaut, executive industry leader or Astronaut Scholar alumni as a mentor. With membership in the Astronaut Scholar Honor Society, he will have opportunities to build relationships and network with peers.

In 2017, MSU became the only university in Mississippi invited into partnership with the Orlando, Florida-based Astronaut Scholarship Foundation to promote STEM fields, along with NASA research priorities at the undergraduate level. The university is among 40 top U.S. institutions selected for having strong undergraduate and graduate research programs that produce significant numbers of professional scientists, academic scientists, engineers and researchers.

The ASF Scholarship program recognizes outstanding college juniors and seniors, and students are encouraged to apply during their sophomore or junior year. For more, visit http://astronautscholarship.org.

“I went to Washington, D.C., once as a kid with my family, and I’m looking forward to going back to present my research and connect with other students and professionals,” Ly said.  “I like the mentorship aspect of the Astronaut Scholarship program. It’s a really cool opportunity.”

Ly has participated in multiple research experiences as an MSU undergraduate over the past few years. Among his fondest memories is his involvement in the university’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders. In 2016, the student organization’s members completed a five-year water well implementation project in the African country of Zambia to help provide safe, clean drinking water to children and others in rural communities.

At MSU, Ly also has collaborated with researchers in the Department of Sustainable Bioproducts to determine how to make wood adhesive out of protein from kudzu, an invasive vine species.

In the civil and environmental engineering department’s Watersheds and Water Quality Research Lab, Ly has worked under the guidance of Assistant Professor John J. Ramirez-Avila to assess the hydrologic efficiency of MSU’s raingarden. He recently received firsthand experience with water quality testing during a summer internship with Gulf Power in Florida.

Ly said he appreciates mentors like Tommy Anderson, director of the honors college’s prestigious external scholarships office, for his commitment to keeping students informed of opportunities like the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation program.

“It’s great that MSU has offices like the Office of Prestigious External Scholarships,” said Ly, who aspires to attend graduate school. “As a mentor through the civil engineering department, I tell freshmen and transfer students all of the time: ‘If you want to go for it, MSU has the resources to help you. You just have to reach out and take advantage of those resources.’”

Learn more about MSU’s Bagley College of Engineering at www.bagley.msstate.edu; Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College, www.honors.msstate.edu.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.