Shirley Thomas Academic Scholarship


The Aerospace Historical Society established an Academic Scholarship in 2010 in memory of its founder Dr. Shirley Thomas. The award is presented annually at the International von Kármán Wings Award banquet to a student in aerospace engineering or a related science that shows promise for continued future contributions to the field.

Wings Award
Shirley Thomas

Shirley Thomas Ph.D. was a woman of many talents a radio/television actress/writer/producer, author, and professor at the University of Southern California.

Born in Glendale, California, Dr. Shirley Thomas earned her B.A. in 1960 and her Ph.D. in Communications in 1967 from the University of Sussex in the UK. She was also awarded a diploma by the Russian Federation of Cosmonautics in 1995.

Dr. Thomas authored fifteen books, including her eight volume series on astronauts Men of Space (published between 1960 and 1968). She presented more than 30 papers at international professional society meetings. Dr. Thomas wrote documentary films for NASA, the USAF Air University, and provided senior consulting services to JPL, Stanford Research Institute, and George Washington University. She also organized and chaired the Woman's Space Symposia from 1962-1973.

Dr. Thomas was so impressed by Theodore von Kármán's genius that after his death, she set out to get a U.S. Postage Stamp issued in his honor. It took her 26 years, succeeding in 1992. She also founded and chaired the Aerospace Historical Society in 1984 the society has presented the international Von Kármán Wings award to outstanding and innovative contributors to the world of aerospace.

Dr. Thomas was also a prominent figure in the early days of the United States Space Program. She was the recipient of the Air Force Association's Airpower Arts and Letters Award and in 1991 she received the Aerospace Excellence Award from the California Museum Foundation and a Fellow in the British Interplanetary Society.

Dr. Thomas was an Associate Fellow and advocate for the national Society for Technical Communication (as well as the local Los Angeles Chapter, LASTC), she taught "Technical and Fundamental Writing" in the Master of Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California for well over three decades. In an article from the LASTC the Technograph she wrote: "In the wondrous world of tomorrow, where we all will be speeding along the information Superhighway, and like spiders we will be climbing the World Wide Web, the capability that can prove most stabilizing is that of technical writing. This is a talent diligently acquired, infinitely useful in any form of communication, and valuable to any application. That is the best kept secret of technical writing."

Past Scholarship Winners


Yuchen WeiYuchen Wei, an aeronautics student working with Professor Sergio Pellegrino, received the 2016 Shirley Thomas Academic scholarship. Yuchen's current research focuses on deployable aperture for future space telescopes, aiming to achieve higher packaging efficiency, lower areal density and modular tessellation. To reach these goals, the concept under development draws ideas from spatial mechanism, thin shell origami and adaptive optics technology. He’s been applying numerical techniques and novel manufacturing methods to expand the potential of the new aperture architecture. Yuchen received his bachelor's degree in aircraft design from Beihang University, China. He got his master’s degree in space engineering from GALCIT in 2014.  


HuynhDavid Huynh, an aeronautics graduate student working with Professor Beverley McKeon, received the 2015 Shirley Thomas Academic scholarship. David received his bachelor’s degree in aeronautical/astronautical engineering in 2009 from the Ohio State University. Currently, his research project is concerned with the control of wall-bounded, turbulent flows, particularly in the context of passive, compliant surfaces. He is designing an experiment to study the effect of a compliant surface on an artificially generated mode in a turbulent boundary layer. This research seeks to further the understanding of turbulence and provide a reduced-order tool to guide the design of future control techniques. David is supported by the Foster and Coco Stanback STEM Fellowship, for which he is involved outreach targeted at highly motivated community college students. The opportunity to guide, teach, and learn from these students have been an invaluable part of his graduate experience. 


GrivelMorgane Grivel, an aeronautics graduate student working with Professor Mory Gharib, received the 2014 Shirley Thomas Academic scholarship. Her PhD thesis research is focused on understanding how a surface's wetting properties can modify flow behavior. She is currently studying two dimensional water jets flowing over surfaces with alternating hydrophobic and hydrophilic bands. These patterned surfaces induce passive hydrodynamic displacements and create roller-like structures in the flow. This research has the potential for new methods for flow control with applications for the future surface and submerged watercraft. Morgane was born in France and moved to the United States as a child. She attended the University of Maryland for her bachelor's degree, graduating in 2011. She obtained her master's degree in Aeronautics from Caltech in 2012. She also took part in the GALCIT- Ecole Polytechnique exchange program and obtained a master's degree in fluid mechanics from the Ecole Polytechnique in 2013. 


PattersonKeith Patterson, an aerospace graduate student working with Professor Sergio Pellegrino, received the 2013 Shirley Thomas Academic scholarship. He has been developing a new active, lightweight, deformable mirror technology. This mirror technology has potential for enabling new large space telescope architectures that could be used for exoplanet imaging, the study of dark matter, earthquake monitoring, and other areas of research. He is originally from upstate New York, and graduated with a bachelor's in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 2007. He got his master's in aerospace engineering from GALCIT in 2009.


ParzialeNicholaus Parziale, an aeronautics graduate student, was awarded the 2012 Shirley Thomas Academic scholarship. His current research focuses on supersonic and hypersonic flows, specifically novel ground-test methodology and optical diagnostic development. Nick was born and raised on Long Island in NY, and received his bachelor's in mechanical engineering from SUNY Binghamton in 2008, then received his master's degree in Aeronautics from Caltech in 2009. He is looking forward to contributing to the fields of aerospace and sustainable energy.


Gwendolyn JohnsonGwendolyn Johnson, an aeronautics graduate student working with Prof. Michael Ortiz in GALCIT, was awarded the 2011 Shirley Thomas Academic scholarship. Her work in robust collision detection, algorithms for simulating non-smooth contact interactions, and optimal control is motivated by her desire to understand, design, and optimize self-assembling space systems. She has applied several numerical tools to optimizing the design of an autonomous reconfigurable space telescope. She earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2008 and a master's degree in aeronautics from Caltech in 2009.


Philipp BoettcherPhilipp Boettcher, a graduate student in GALCIT, was awarded the 2010 Shirley Thomas Academic scholarship for performing novel research on thermal ignition mechanisms. Philipp received his bachelor's in aeronautics and astronautics from Purdue University and joined Caltech as a graduate student in 2006 to pursue his PhD. He has also exhibited excellent mentoring and leadership qualities.