By  Lasherica Thornton

The DM Online, March 22, 2017 —

On March 13, 1969, the crew manning NASA’s Apollo 9 returned to Earth after a 10-day orbital mission and the first successful manned flight of a Lunar Module. Nearly 50 years later, NASA continues to fund space grant consortium programs in every US state to promote space exploration.

Applications for the Mississippi Space Grant Consortium are due this week Friday.

The Mississippi Space Grant Consortium is a statewide network of colleges, universities, industries and public service institutions providing opportunities for Mississippians, especially those from underrepresented groups, to understand and participate in NASA’s aeronautics and space programs by supporting and enhancing science, mathematics, engineering and technology education, research, and outreach programs.

According to its mission statement, the Mississippi Space Grant Consortium not only enhances and furthers the study, development and practice of aerospace science and technology but also fosters education and career building for science, mathematics, engineering and technology professions.

The MSSGC was founded in 1991 when NASA awarded grants to four Mississippi universities: The University of Mississippi, Jackson State University, The University of Southern Mississippi and Mississippi State University.

Another gateway for STEM career opportunities is the Graduate Research Fellowship Awards. Founded in 1952, the fellowship has awarded 50,000 graduate research fellowships out of more than 500,000 applications. Many National Science Foundation recipients have gone on to apply for the MSSGC.

The University of Mississippi serves as the administrative lead for MSSGC, and Earnest Stephens is the project’s coordinator.

“With this fellowship, we’re looking at engineers and scientists for the future, and it encourages those individuals to pursue careers in aerospace and in STEM careers,” Stephens said.

To meet eligibility, an individual must be a U.S. citizen enrolled in a full-time graduate program of a university in the state. Students are welcome to apply as either entering or current graduate students, however the application is limited to students seeking a degree in the STEM field with research of relevance to one of NASA’s objectives. In addition, applicants must have a 3.0 grade point average or above.

“We do encourage applications from underrepresented minorities, females and persons with disabilities,” Stephens said. “One of the purposes of this program is to increase the participation of these individuals who pursue careers in the STEM field.”

Currently, fellowship awards are $20,000 per year with an option to re-apply and renew for up to three years. Stephens said in order to maintain the fellowship, students must conduct satisfactory research, maintain academic progress and participate in the program.

Because the awards are based on annual funding, between eight to 10 students are awarded the fellowship each year. In the 2015-16 academic year, MSSGC selected 10 students. Three recipients were Ole Miss students. In 2012, 13 students received fellowship awards, including eight MSU students, three UM students and one JSU and USM student.

MSSGC offers more opportunities for undergraduates and faculty than just the graduate research fellowships. Undergraduates of either a university or community college can partake in six-week internships and at space centers across the country. Community college faculty can participate in fellowships conducted over the summer in a space center.

The MSSGC accepting applications for the 2017-2018 Graduate Research Fellowships program. Apply today!