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Karissa Gawronski

Her story: For Karissa, being a wolverine is a family trait. She grew up on the University of Michigan watching football games and taking trips to Ann Arbor with her family. Both of her parents, as well as her sister, attended the University, so when it came time to pick a college, U of M was an obvious choice.

Karissa graduated from the University in the spring of 2018 with a major in neuroscience and a minor in interdisciplinary astronomy. Growing up, she always held a fascination for astronomy, so when one of her friends told her about the department’s interdisciplinary astronomy minor, she was excited to be able to combine her two interests during her undergraduate career. She started taking astronomy classes and really enjoyed them.

Her time at the University: In terms of astronomy, Karissa is primarily interested in the exploration of Mars and other exoplanets, as well as the search for life elsewhere. During her time in undergrad she was part of a team that participated in the eXploration Systems and Habitation (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge. In that challenge, her team was tasked with designing a space habitat and presenting their project to NASA. As the Safety Subsystem Lead, Karissa’s main role was to create a risk matrix and make contingency plans for possible failures.

Even though Karissa’s major was in neuroscience, her time at the University allowed her to build many valuable connections that helped her to see that astronomy could still be part of her career post-graduation. While attending the bicentennial True Blue event on campus, she met Michigan alum Michael Hess who told her all about his career in space medicine. That was the first time Karissa had encountered the possibility of pursuing a career that combines her passions of astronomy and medicine. After the event she contacted him on LinkedIn, and he has since been extremely helpful in making her aware of opportunities and resources in the field of space medicine that she can get involved with, such as the Aerospace Medical Association (AsMA).

What’s next for Karissa?: Currently Karissa is taking a gap year and working at the Steadman Phillipon Research Institute, a top orthopedic center in Colorado. While her intent is to go to medical school and pursue orthopedic surgery, she hasn’t given up on her love of astronomy. “I’m interested in orthopedic surgery, but I also have a space medicine fellowship in mind for a few years down the road.”

Her advice for future students: While Karissa’s studies at the University primarily focused on neuroscience, astronomy was an important part of her college career and is still playing a part in shaping her future.

Her advice for students considering a degree in astronomy is simple: “It’s always helpful to take some introductory classes and get the feel for it. The professors at U of M are very inviting and always encourage you to pursue your interests.”