UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Yes, it is rocket science: UND student earns fellowship

Summer internship will bring Sydney Menne to electric propulsion team at California’s Astra

Sydney Menne, a UND senior and double-major in Physics and Mathematics, has earned a 2023 Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship. The University of North Dakota’s first-ever Marshall Scholar will intern this summer at the space launch company Astra in Alameda, Calif., before beginning her master’s degree program at England’s University of Southampton this fall. In the photo, Menne stands on the factory floor of Virgin Orbit in Long Beach, Calif, where she worked with the propulsion engineering team last summer as a Brooke Owens Fellow. Photo courtesy of Virgin Orbit.

Sydney Menne, a UND senior and one of the University’s most honored current students, has landed yet another prestigious fellowship.

The 2023 Marshall Scholar and Rhodes Scholarship finalist from Shoreview, Minn., has been awarded the 2023 Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship. She’ll intern this summer at the space launch company Astra in Alameda, Calif.

Menne is one of only 30 students among more than 250 applicants from 90-plus colleges to be selected for a paid internship at one of several leading commercial space companies.

“I’m thrilled,” Menne said. “The Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship means I now have additional support and connections to others who share my passion, and it means I am one step closer to achieving my goal of making an impact in commercial space.”

On top of earning more than a dozen top honors in the past four years, Menne just last month became UND’s first-ever Marshall Scholar — an award first established in 1953 by British Parliament to recognize America’s best and brightest scholars with the chance to pursue graduate study in any field at any university of their choice in the United Kingdom.

This September, Menne will begin her Master of Science in Propulsion & Engine Systems Engineering at the University of Southampton, and in her second year, possibly earn her master’s in Environmental Policy & Management at Bristol or Climate Change & Environmental Policy at Leeds.

Meanwhile, Menne says the Isakowitz Fellowship will help launch her goal to one day work in propulsion engineering.

“I’m really looking forward to being on the Astra Spacecraft Engine team,” she said. “The Spacecraft Engine is electric propulsion, which I am very excited to learn more about … I know I want to study propulsion, but I’m not sure what type in particular. I think this will help me decide what direction I’m going to take.”

Astra is an American launch vehicle company that strives to offer the most cost-effective orbital launch services of any such provider in the world. Its trademarked Astra Spacecraft Engine also is one of the industry’s first flight-proven electric propulsion systems for satellites.

Astra delivered its first commercial launch to low Earth orbit in 2021, making it the fastest company in history to reach the milestone — just five years after the company was founded in 2016.

A natural leader

Yee Han Chu, academic support and fellowship opportunities coordinator at UND, said she feels “blessed to be able to work with such talented young adults like Sydney, who show how gifted potential transforms into talented behaviors.”

Menne’s example shows exactly what’s possible when you combine talent, hard work and the strength of UND’s academic programs, Chu said.

“Sydney is a thoroughbred. She leads. I guide and try to keep up,” Chu said. “Sydney is curious about the world and succeeds in her pursuits because of her intellectual, social and emotional abilities. She’s a confident, yet humble person.

“In some ways for success to occur, the stars do need to align in terms of timing, opportunity and resources. But Sydney creates her own luck. She can spot the meaningful experiences that a scholarship opportunity would bring. She can discern who would be a good mentor to assist her, and she can self-evaluate to determine if she can meet the challenge. And she does this over and over again.”