Grindle Honors Institute students land NASA internship and chemistry award

Tuesday, January 21, 2020
Written by: Emily Hollingshead

Photo: Seminole State student and NASA intern, Alys Averette, works in a lab studying polyimide aero-gels.

Two Grindle Honors Institute students have had exceptional success as they begin their journey into their respective STEM fields. Emily Gearhart and Alys Averette both pursued their love of science to great success this year.

Averette never thought she would go to college. After graduating from a boarding school for troubled youth at 16, she entered the workforce and spent her time working in retail and fast food. Yet, eight years after she finished high school, her determination and work ethic saw her rising to a general management position that gave her enough security to begin taking college classes part time at Seminole State College of Florida. At the College, she fell in love with biology and chemistry and had dreams of pursuing a degree in astrobiology. 

After waiting nine months for a call back, she landed an internship with NASA working with polyimide aero-gels. The aero-gels are incorporated in a wide range of the work NASA does, from extravehicular suits and habitats to the inflatable decelerators used for atmospheric reentry. “I hope my story as an intern at NASA can inspire hope in others who, like me, might have thought they were too nontraditional, inexperienced or different to pursue their dreams and, instead, realize that it’s never too late,” Averette said. 

While Averette has her sights set on the stars, Gearhart’s love for the Earth has taken her across the nation and back again. A first-generation college student, Gearhart has built an impressive background in the STEM field, including participating in the Women in Science: Sustainability Studies in New Mexico High Desert course. During the course, Gearhart, with her fellow students, traveled with Professors of Biological Science Dr. Deborah Barr and Dr. Debra Socci to learn more about the natural world in an ecosystem vastly different from Florida’s. She returned to New Mexico to spend her summer working at the New Mexico Consortium Biolabs and graduated from Seminole State in December with her associate degree. 

(L-R) Seminole State Professor Deborah Mead, Heike Gearhart, Emily Gearhart, Glenn Rampersad and Seminole State Professor Dr. Van Quach

In recognition for her passion for chemistry and her early accomplishments in the field, the Orlando Section of the American Chemical Society honored Gearhart with the Outstanding 2-Year College Student Award. “Starting out at Seminole State was the best decision for me,” Gearhart said. “It was a place where I grew both as a person and academically, which I attribute to all of my amazing professors. They have supported me through new adventures and pushed me to reach for new opportunities, which has made receiving awards like this possible.” Professor of Physical Sciences Deborah Mead nominated Gearhart for the award with support from Grindle Honors Institute Director Aaron Hanlin. Professor of Chemistry Dr. Van Quach introduced Gearhart during the celebratory luncheon on Dec. 7. She plans to continue her education at a four-year university where she will study either biochemistry or biophysics.  

The Grindle Honors Institute seeks to recruit a diverse student body that fosters a community of academic excellence. Students in the honors program enjoy priority registration, special courses and transfer assistance among other benefits. If you are interested in joining the honors program be sure to review the honors admission requirements and procedures and complete an application.

About Seminole State College

Seminole State College of Florida, established in 1965, serves nearly 30,000 students across six sites in Central Florida. A comprehensive college, Seminole State has awarded more than 100,000 credentials, from bachelor's degrees to high school diplomas, and offers more than 200 degrees, certificates and programs designed for success. For more about the college, visit
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About the Grindle Honors Institute

The Grindle Honors Institute offers programs for academically talented students who want to enrich their experience and engage in honors activities at Seminole State College of Florida. For more information, please visit the Grindle Honors Institute website.