Student wins astronaut scholarship

BY MIA LEVINE, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Washington University senior Lonia Friedlander was certainly seeing stars when she was awarded a $10,000 scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF).

Friedlander, a native of Akron, Ohio, was one of 19 university students nationwide selected to receive this prestigious award by NASA astronauts in the ASF.

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The scholarships are awarded to students who exhibit exceptional performance, initiative, and creativity in the science or engineering field of their major.

“My research and major advisor in Earth and planetary sciences recommended that I apply for the award,” Friedlander said in a recent interview. “He came into my office and said, ‘You should do this.’ So I filled out the application, wrote the essays, and sent it off. I actually didn’t quite realize what a big deal it was when I filled out the paperwork. It just seemed like sort of a nice thing to be recognized for.”

Though modest about her work, Friedlander’s scientific research studies are anything but ordinary.

Her current research interest is remote sensing, a technique that allows researchers to characterize the surface of a planet without actually having to dig into its surface.

“I think that technology of this type has enormous potential in the mining industry, especially in terms of excavating for natural resources without having to tear up everything at the surface in order to see what’s underneath,” she said.

Despite her busy academic schedule, Friedlander still finds time to be active in Washington University’s Jewish community. She has held various student leadership positions at St. Louis Hillel and is heavily involved in the Women’s Minyan at Bais Abraham Congregation.

Over the past several years, she has sat on the Jewish Student Union’s Holiday Committee.

“She’s an incredibly intelligent woman,” says campus Hillel Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow, “unabated in her commitment to her community. It’s a great honor to see her recognized for her academic prowess.”

Likewise, the 21-year-old has good things to say about Hillel’s role in shaping her life, worldview, and career. “I think that my involvement with Hillel fosters a social awareness and encouraged me not to wrap myself up in the ivory tower of scientific research,” she said. For example, Rabbi Avi and I see each other quite a lot on campus. He bounces ideas off of me and I give him my thoughts as a student. I like to contribute my ideas. It keeps me connected.”

Friedlander’s love of science started, perhaps with her parents, both of whom are medical doctors. But she recalls chemistry as a junior in high school as an inspiration: “I had a fabulous teacher whom I actually sort of blame for my interest in the sciences,” she laughed.

Friedlander is currently in the process of applying to Stanford, Columbia, MIT, and SUNY Stony Brook universities in order to continue her studies.

“I’m looking for a career in the geosciences with an environmental slant. I want to conduct the kind of research that will hopefully let me make an environmental difference,” she said.

But this student with the world at her feet would also like to try for a Fulbright Scholarship in Israel. Her plan of study would include an investigation of the transport of agricultural pollutants over the desert surface through clay minerals. “Getting the Fulbright before going on to graduate school is my first choice,” she said.

Combining her love of science with her deep connection to Judaism seems like just the right recipe for success for Friedlander.

“It’s our job at Hillel to prepare students for life after college,” explained Rabbi Avi. “It’s so rare that we get to see them so accomplished when they’re still undergrads. She’s going to have a stellar future ahead of her.”