LAWRENCE -- One year after the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy, residents of the Kansas City area are stepping up to keep one astronaut's dream alive.
Members of the greater Kansas City Eastern Indian community are conducting a fund drive to establish a scholarship in aerospace engineering at the University of Kansas to honor Kalpana Chawla, the Indian astronaut who perished in the Feb. 1, 2003, shuttle catastrophe.
"This is a joint effort of the Indian Association of Kansas City, Hindu Temple and Cultural Center, and the Indian Political Forum," said Dr. Kottarappat Dileepan (pronounced kaw-ter-ruh-PAHT dih-LEE-pun), a faculty member at the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan. Dileepan leads the fund-raising committee.
The idea to create the scholarship surfaced immediately after the disaster, Dileepan said, as members of the community met to mourn the fallen astronauts and discuss how best to honor Chawla's achievements. Chawla, who earned a doctorate in aerospace engineering, was the first Indian woman and Indian-American to fly in space. She was selected for NASA's astronaut training program in 1994 and made her first shuttle flight in 1997. She logged more than 30 days in space.
The proposal to offer a scholarship in her honor to an aerospace engineering student at KU found an audience in the Kansas City area.
"People in general thought it was an excellent idea," Dileepan said.
The group needs to raise $25,000 to establish the endowed scholarship fund at the KU Endowment Association, the fund-raising arm of KU. Already the committee has raised nearly $5,000 toward the goal from a small fraction of the Indian community and has detailed plans to continue the endeavor. Dileepan estimated that more than 2,000 families of Indian heritage live in the Kansas City area.
Mark Ewing, chair of aerospace engineering at KU, said such gifts are inspiring.
"This is a great idea, focusing attention on the aerospace engineering field and, at the same time, memorializing one whom so many people look up to for inspiration," Ewing said. "A scholarship fund in memory of Dr. Chawla allows her spirit of discovery and adventure to live on. Many students aspiring to a career in science or engineering will want to have the honor and privilege of receiving the award."
The scholarship also will help recruit talented students to the KU program.
"The availability of the Kalpana Chawla Scholarship will undoubtedly lead a greater number of highly qualified students to consider an education in aerospace engineering," Ewing said.
The endowed fund will provide an award of $1,250 a year for the scholarship recipient. Selection criteria for recipients have not been fully established but likely will be based on merit and need.
The committee welcomes contributions to the fund, Dileepan said. People interested in giving should send their donations earmarked for the Kalpana Chawla Scholarship Fund to the KU School of Engineering c/o the KU Endowment Association, P.O. Box 928, Lawrence, KS 66044-0928; or visit www.kuendowment.org and click "4Donors."
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