News Release

Two University of Minnesota Twin Cities students named 2019 Astronaut Scholars

Matt DeJong and Macy Vollbrecht
Matthew DeJong and Macy Vollbrecht.

Two University of Minnesota Twin Cities Honors students, one in the College of Science and Engineering and one in the College of Biological Sciences, have been awarded scholarships for the 2019-20 academic year by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. The prestigious, competitive scholarship is awarded annually to outstanding sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research-oriented careers in mathematics, engineering, and the natural and applied sciences. The scholarship awards up to $10,000 for a year of undergraduate study. In addition, recipients will receive mentoring and professional development support, attend the Astronaut Foundation’s Innovators Gala in Washington D.C., and have the opportunity to participate in other Astronaut Foundation events. The students are Matthew DeJong and Macy Vollbrecht.

Matthew DeJong, a chemical engineering major from Eden Prairie, is working to solve problems related to antibiotic resistance. After his first year at the University of Minnesota, he began working with Professor Yiannis Kaznessis to develop probiotic bacteria through gene editing. In his sophomore year, DeJong moved to the lab of Professor Benjamin Hackel, who was engineering antimicrobial peptides that could target specific pathogens. There DeJong developed an innovative system for high-throughput evaluation of millions of peptide variants. This summer, he will have a research internship through the German Academic Exchange (DAAD) at the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology.

In addition to his research, DeJong has served as a mentor and team lead in the Honors Mentorship program and as an officer and outreach leader with the Minnesota Society of Professional Engineers and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Earlier this spring, he was awarded a nationally competitive scholarship for his accomplishments in the sciences by the Barry Goldwater Foundation. He has also been awarded a Presidential Scholarship by the University of Minnesota and a Fridley Scholarship by the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. A graduate of Eden Prairie High School, where he ran track and cross-country, DeJong has also qualified for the Boston Marathon.

Macy Vollbrecht, a genetics and cell biology major from Ames, Iowa, began doing genetics research as a junior in high school with the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Young Engineers and Scientists program. Investigating potential tumor suppressor genes in zebrafish led her to more advanced work in cancer biology and genome engineering and an internship with Recombinetics, Inc. in St. Paul. At the University of Minnesota, she joined Professor Dan Voytas’s lab and learned techniques for gene editing in plants, helping to develop herbicide tolerant crops. Vollbrecht spent last summer in the Undergraduate Research Program and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, turning her attention back to cancer. Her research illustrated that certain immune cells are important for controlling mammary cell proliferation at defined developmental stages of pregnancy and may have implications for breast cancer therapies. During the past year, she engaged in an independent project in the Voytas lab funded by a UROP grant.

At the University of Minnesota, Vollbrecht served as a Welcome Week leader, a Sophomore Guild leader and student board member in the College of Biological Sciences. A graduate of Ames High School, she was awarded Kiwanis Club Scholarship and a University of Minnesota National Gold Scholarship.

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation was founded in 1985 by the Mercury 7 astronauts, one of whom, Donald “Deke” Slayton, graduated from the University of Minnesota with a B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering in 1949. Prevented from piloting the second U.S. manned orbital space flight by an irregular heart rhythm, Slayton served as NASA’s Director of Flight Crew Operations and later was cleared to pilot the docking module in the Apollo-Soyuz mission of 1975. The Astronaut Scholarships are awarded to students at 40 universities with historic ties to the U.S. space program who demonstrate leadership, imagination, and academic excellence in the study of mathematics, science or engineering.  Thirty-three students from the University of Minnesota have been recognized as Astronaut Scholars.

University of Minnesota Twin Cities students who are interested in applying for the scholarship in the future may consult with the Office of National and International Scholarships by contacting Timothy Jones at [email protected].

For more information on the Astronaut Scholarship, visit


Media Contacts

Main Line

University Public Relations
(612) 624-5551

Timothy Jones

Honors Program, Twin Cities