Alumna Tracy Caldwell

Alumna Tracy Caldwell, visiting the area during Cal State Fullerton’s 40th anniversary, tours a space exhibit in Brea. Photo by Patrick O’Donnell.

Alumna Soars Into Honorary Doctorate

Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Honored During Commencement 2008

April 22, 2008

By Pamela McLaren

Tracy Caldwell was a rising star as an undergraduate at Cal State Fullerton and then reached for the stars as a NASA astronaut.

Cal State Fullerton will recognize its high-flying alumna with an honorary doctorate at this year's commencement ceremonies.

The mission specialist will be honored during the 8 a.m. Saturday, May 17, all-university ceremony in the athletic field north of Titan Gym.

In her student days, Caldwell earned recognition for service within the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and she also received a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates Award. In addition, she was named a Big West Scholar Athlete as a sprinter and long jumper.

Meanwhile, in the laboratory, she designed, constructed and implemented electronics and hardware associated with laser-ionization/time-of-flight mass spectrometer.

She was mentored by John A. Olmsted, emeritus professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and A. Scott Hewitt, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, who continued to follow her through graduate school and her career, and formed a friendship with Sue Fisher, campus radiation officer. Olmsted and Fisher were in Cape Canaveral last summer when she blasted off, her dream realized, as part of the crew of the space shuttle Endeavor.

Caldwell, who graduated with a bachelor of science in chemistry in 1993, went on to earn a doctorate in physical chemistry from UC Davis in 1997. That same year, Caldwell received the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Postdoctoral Fellowship in Environmental Science to study atmospheric chemistry.

She joined NASA in June 1998 and became America's youngest astronaut and the first selected who was born after the first landing on the moon. Prior to her flight mission, she participated in the testing and integration of Russian hardware and software products developed for the International Space Station, served as a crew support astronaut for the Expedition V flight to the ISS in 2002 and also served as a spacecraft communicator inside Mission Control.

Caldwell has been honored twice before by her alma mater: she was named a Distinguished Alumna in 2001 and honored at that year's Vision & Visionaries gala and was a featured speaker at the university's 40th anniversary celebration. On that occasion, Sen. John Glenn sent a letter to Caldwell, calling her "a great role model for young men and women everywhere."

In a 2002 interview, Caldwell said: "I always tell kids three things: Dream big, study hard and always follow your heart."

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