Logo: University of Southern California

USC Astronautical Engineering Student Wins Astronaut Scholarship

USC Viterbi student Jason Silverman received a $10,000 Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) scholarship on Oct. 3, presented to him by Apollo 7 astronaut Walt Cunningham
By: Robert Perkins
October 04, 2013 —
Walt Cunningham and Jason Silverman

Silverman, a 20-year-old junior from West Chester, Pa., is on USC’s Progressive Degree track, which allows driven students to begin work on a master’s degree while earning their bachelor’s. After four or perhaps five years at USC, Silverman plans to graduate with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in astronautical engineering.

"I feel truly honored to receive this award, and I promise that I've only begun my contribution to space engineering," Silverman said.

The Astronaut Scholarship is the largest merit-based monetary award in the United States given to STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) students.

Established in 1984 as the Mercury Seven Foundation, ASF awards 28 scholarships annually, each worth $10,000, for the best and brightest students pursuing STEM degrees. To date, the foundation has awarded nearly $3.5 million in scholarships to deserving students nationwide.

Apollo 7 astronaut Cunningham presented the award to Silverman at a ceremony in the Taper Hall of Humanities. Cunningham was a Lunar Module pilot on the first manned Apollo mission in 1968.

Silverman said that USC’s Astronautical Engineering Department was a big part of what attracted him to the university.

In addition, he chose USC because of its proximity to and relationship with the space industry – in particular, the burgeoning private space industry. He has worked on a NASA-funded project and has interned at SpaceX, where he worked on thermal control and life support systems for the Dragon spacecraft.

“It’s pretty rare to run into a student that is not only pretty much perfect in all of his classes, but has real hands-on skill,” said Dan Erwin, professor of astronautical engineering at USC Viterbi, who has both had Silverman in class and worked with him in the Rocket Lab.

Silverman has had a passion for engineering his whole life -- a passion that found its direction, ironically, due to the media attention surrounding the shelving of the Constellation human spaceflight program by the federal government in 2010.

“I realized how important space exploration could be for humanity and decided to pursue astronautics,” Silverman said. He joined the USC Rocket Propulsion Lab shortly after starting school, and received his Level 3 rocketry certification from the Tripoli Rocketry Association in March 2012.

The USC Rocket Propulsion Lab is a group of students, mostly undergrads, that builds and flies rockets. This month, the RPL students will attempt to launch a rocket into space.

This will be their second attempt in two months and – if they’re successful – they will be the first student team ever to make it to space.

“Jason started drawing and designing rockets as soon as he could hold a crayon," said Sharon Silverman, Jason’s mother. “Being able to combine classroom theory with hands-on workbench skills alongside other motivated people in USC's Rocket Propulsion Lab has been a rich experience that Jason could not have gotten anywhere else.”

Ultimately, Silverman hopes to contribute to the advancement of space exploration, and possibly to travel to space.