To Ayla Grandpre, the sky is not a limit

You will find no better advocate for women in science than President's Cup recipient Ayla Grandpre (RMC Class of 2018). Graduating with a pair of bachelor of science degrees in chemistry and computer science, Grandpre is on a mission to make STEM careers (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) exciting for young girls throughout the state of Montana.

She first explored space technology through NASA's HUNCH program at Laurel High School, where she learned critical hands-on skills, such as soldering, that would open doors to a wide variety of educational and professional opportunities. For instance, early in her time at Rocky, she joined a team of computer science and biology students to send an algae growth experiment to the International Space Station. Her technical skills proved useful when she accepted an internship at Montana State University's Space Science Engineering Laboratory in Bozeman, Mont. Now, Grandpre is a mentor for that same HUNCH program where she started.

"I've always been interested in space," Grandpre said. "It was awesome to be involved in all sides of the AGAR experiment, and it was super cool to see our project go to space and get it back after thirty days on the International Space Station."

Grandpre was an intern at the NASA Kennedy Space Center, where she worked on a team that analyzed edible plant growth for the ISS and potential long-term space missions. This year, she travels to Virginia, having accepted a coveted Brooke Evans Fellowship, through which she will work with Radiant Solutions/Digital Globe.

"It is very exciting," she said of the program. "Forty women from across the country are selected [for the Fellowship], and they are all interested in pursuing aerospace-related careers."

Grandpre hopes that she can serve as an inspiration to young girls throughout the region. "When I was in high school, I didn't think it was possible for me, a small town girl from Laurel, Montana," she reflected.

That's why she started the SMArt Girls program at Rocky, which brings middle school children to the campus to engage in science, math, and art projects. "The experience of seeing a kid's eyes light up is so overwhelming and rewarding," she said.

Grandpre also participates in a wide variety of other outreach and volunteering organizations, such as AmeriCorps, the Montana Space Grant Consortium's Space Public Outreach Team, and the NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador program.

Notably, this May, she will join other space sciences students and professionals, through Citizens for Space Exploration, to speak to members of the U.S. Congress about the importance of space research.

Her next goal: Grandpre hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in the University of Arizona Aerospace Engineering program.