Astronaut panel is out-of-this-world opportunity

October 05, 2021 / by / 2 Comments

Dr. Soyeon Yi (center) shared her experiences as an astronaut with Honors College students Monday.

Story by Ashlee Larrison
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau 

When one thinks about what it takes to become an astronaut, the journey can seem like the furthest thing from simple.

Training, studying and preparing to expect the unexpected are all key components that often come to mind, but there is so much more to it than that.

According to South Korea’s only astronaut, Dr. Soyeon Yi, the key to unlocking success as an astronaut is simpler than you’d think – learning how to be your authentic self.

Monday evening, Grand Canyon University Honors College students were given the opportunity to hear firsthand what it is like to be an astronaut during the “A Day in the Life of an Astronaut” panel hosted by Honors STEMists.

Panelist included (from left) Sameer Sontakey, Rich Merenda, Dr. Eduardo Diaz and Dr. Soyeon Yi.

In addition to hearing about actual space travel, students also got to further familiarize themselves with AdvancingX, an organization that helps prepare future astronauts.

In addition to Yi, panelists were AdvancingX CEO Dr. Eduardo Diaz, AdvancingX Instructor and former commander in the U.S. Army Rich Merenda and Biostrap CEO Sameer Sontakey.

During the discussion, it was also announced that three scholarships would be donated to GCU students for AdvancingX’s Career Astronaut program.

Despite the focus on astronauts, it is something that Honors College Associate Dean Dr. Breanna Naegeli said the talk would benefit students from any degree program.

“Not everyone in the audience today is destined to be an astronaut or even has that desire, but there are a considerable number of ways students can implement their hard and soft skills into the study of aerospace, and this field is vastly growing quicker than we can imagine,” she said. “It’s really a way for students to see all the different ways you can play a part this growing field.

“Nonetheless, though, this panel included leading experts that spoke to leading an innovative team, building a team that can effectively collaborate and produce results together, and how to navigate high pressure situations as a leader so your team can thrive under any circumstance. These concepts are applicable in every industry.”

That was the exact idea that intrigued students such as sophomore Business Management major Aaryanna Nelson.

Students listen and engaged with panelists at the event.

“When I saw that an astronaut would be coming, I thought that that was pretty cool,” she said. “I wanted to listen and hear about their experience about their careers.”

When the panel was over, despite not being a STEM major, Nelson left with a new insight into how she could tackle problems in her future career in business.

Camden Marasco, ASGCU Director of Sustainability and Director of Operations for STELLAR Research, was another student eager to learn as much as he could from the panelists.

“It’s a really exciting time to be at GCU,” he said.

Whether it be the upcoming Aerospace Engineering program in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology or having the opportunity to build connections with people currently working in space exploration, there never has been a better time for GCU students to be curious about space.

Like Nelson, despite not being a STEM major, Marasco was drawn to the opportunity to build connections and hear the stories from real people in the field.

“I was asking them questions about what they thought the next threshold was for humanity, because in the 1400s was when humans discovered the new world, but now we’re in this really pivotal new era of the new cosmos,” he said. “She (Yi) said that we don’t know what lies beyond out there, but we need people who are really smart in science, people who are really smart with communicating and people who are really excited to get other people involved. It was just great to hear her experience in space.”

Students weren’t the only ones who had looked forward to this opportunity. Yi, as a first-time GCU visitor, enjoyed the level of engagement of students from different academic backgrounds. It was also a step toward normalcy after a year and a half plagued by COVID.

“For two years I couldn’t meet students in person at all, so it feels so energetic and fun to meet people in person,” she said. “The reason I missed visiting universities and missed students is because there’s always a real interest and passion out there.

“I can feel how active and passionate for science and space the GCU students are.”

Now that connections between the panelists and the University have been made, Naegeli said this won’t be the last students hear about this topic, especially as GCU’s contribution to the world of space exploration continues to flourish.

“It’s all a good fit, good timing, and we can definitely see this event coming back in the future,” she said.

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].


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2 Responses
  1. Stephen

    This is an amazing opportunity for the young women and men of Arizona and the online education offering would be advantageous for students anywhere in the world! Love it!!!!!!

    Oct.05.2021 at 6:17 pm
  2. Dr. Eduardo Diaz

    It was an honor to speak with so many passionate students at GCU. Thank you!!! ??‍??‍??‍???‍????❤️

    Oct.05.2021 at 7:04 pm
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