Neuroscience student becomes first CSU Astronaut Scholar

Ravyn Cullor

Colorado State University’s first ever student to win the Astronaut Scholarship isn’t even planning on going to space. 

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation awards the scholarship to STEM students, like senior neuroscience major Ben Fixman, for doing outstanding undergraduate research, not necessarily pertaining to space sciences.

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Fixman has been working for James Bamburg, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, since his freshman year, but said his passion for neuroscience developed much earlier.

“In junior high, I read a book about neuroplasticity and that got me interested in neuroscience,” Fixman said. “I decided to major in neuroscience and then … during the fall of my sophomore year, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was ironic because I was already interested in neuroscience and the tumor solidified that interest and really directed it towards cancer and cancer research.”

The brain tumor was benign and has since been removed, but Fixman said the experience has driven his area of study for his undergraduate and graduate career.

The Student Astronaut Scholarship:

$10,000, awarded to fifty astronaut scholars around the country.

Scholarship candidates are nominated by faculty members. Students may not directly apply for the award.

Students must be a junior or senior in an undergraduate STEM degree who are producing graduate-level research and at least a 3.7-grade point average.

Currently, the lab Fixman works in studies Alzheimer’s disease and strokes. Fixman, along with a group of other students, developed a new technique to culture slices of rodent brains. The lab currently uses this technique to model the effects of a stroke on the brain. Fixman said other students, such as Isaac Babcock and Zack Fleishhacker, are also a large part of that research. 

A man sits at a desk
Ben Fixman, recipient of a scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation is a senior at CSU majoring in Nueroscience. Ben has been working on experiements with rodent brains to learn about Alzheimer’s Disease and Strokes. (Josh Schroeder | Collegian)

“They have put in all the exact same work as I did in the lab,” Fixman said. “I really think that we never would have developed the method and published the paper without them putting in a ton of hours.”

Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs for the College of Natural Sciences Lisa Dysleski said since this is the first year in which CSU applied to and was accepted as a partner institution in the ASF, Fixman was also the first student to win the scholarship among others eligible.

SF is not looking for students who want to become astronauts one day,” Dysleski said. 

Dysleski said that CSU receives student nominees submitted by faculty, then a committee and a board review the application. The board ultimately submits two nominees to the ASF. One student from every partner institute is awarded the $10,000 scholarship.

I decided to major in neuroscience and then…during the fall of my sophomore year, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was ironic because I was already interested in neuroscience and the tumor solidified that interest and really directed it towards cancer and cancer research.” Ben Fixman, senior Neuroscienceb major and Astronaut Scholar.

“There is a monetary award along with it, but the other really important piece about the Astronaut Scholarship is that they connect scholars with a really robust mentoring program,” Dysleski said.

Students must be a junior or senior in an undergraduate STEM degree who are producing graduate-level research and have at least a 3.7-grade point average. According to the ASF website, the vision of the Astronaut Scholarship is to inspire, encourage and facilitate Astronaut Scholars to embody the highly respected astronaut characteristics.

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“I think it comes down to an innovative spirit,” Dysleski said. “ASF is not looking to create more astronauts, but to encourage that innovative spirit of discovery in which scholars really want to push the boundaries of what we understand and what we know.”

Fixman said although he is not intending on venturing into space anytime soon, the scholarship has helped him apply to MD-Ph.D. programs, where he hopes to study brain cancer and eventually land in a career studying neuro-oncology, working with patients and teaching.

Editor’s note: Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs for the College of Natural Sciences Lisa Dyleski was previously stated as working with “natural resources.” An explanation of the brain-culture technique and student eligibility has been clarified.  

Ravyn Cullor can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @RCullor99