Power of perseverance: How newly named astronaut scholar rocketed to success

Kori Eliaz stands in front of a Lockheed Martin sign
Recognized for her extensive industry experience, electrical engineering senior Kori Eliaz has held three internships with Lockheed Martin.

Colorado State University senior Kori Eliaz was over the moon when she learned she was one of 60 students selected to receive the prestigious astronaut scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

In addition to her academic and research accomplishments, the electrical engineering major received the honor for her extensive real-world experience in the aerospace industry.

Her passion for deep space exploration grew out of a love for science fiction novels such as Starship Troopers, Dune and The Sirens of Titan. Eliaz called the award “transformative.” It represents a dream come true – and a call to action.

“This is more than a scholarship,” said Eliaz. “It’s a lifelong journey with a community of people who share my passion for engineering and science. It has given me the confidence to know I can make a difference and that I can share my story to help others succeed.”

Out-of-this world experience

Photo of Eliaz accepting the Astronaut Scholarship Award from astronaut Curt Brown.
Eliaz accepts the Astronaut Scholarship Award from astronaut Curt Brown.

In addition to excelling in her coursework at CSU, Eliaz already has a universe of hands-on training and knowledge of the aerospace field.

Her resume boasts three internships with Lockheed Martin, including her current role as a systems engineering intern on the Dragonfly mission. She has led teams of interns and created new employee engagement strategies. She has written flight software, designed digital circuitry and developed system models for deep space exploratory spacecraft.

As an undergraduate researcher, Eliaz helped launch a NASA-funded project to design a lunar dust mitigation device that repels tiny, harmful shards of glass particles to protect astronauts’ lungs on space missions. She is also developing new technology with Fort Collins-based Woodward, Inc., for emulation of aerospace actuation systems as part of her senior design project.

“Having worked with countless students in my career, Kori is exceptional,” said Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Head Tony Maciejewski. “Beyond her vast industry experience and strong technical skills, she is an articulate leader who inspires faculty, staff and students with her tenacity and motivation.”

Inspiring future generations to reach for the stars

The road to success was not easy.

Eliaz spoke about her journey of perseverance at the Astronaut Foundation’s awards gala last month. “It was a pivotal moment,” said Eliaz. “I had a few astronauts tell me they were moved to tears.”

At 19, she dropped out of community college in California to help care for a loved one who suffered a stroke. She became a round-the-clock caregiver and found herself homeless and sleeping on a friend’s floor for six months.

“In that time, I didn’t know if I was ever going to be able to get a degree,” said Eliaz. “I never put my head down or gave up. I kept persevering like a true engineer to find a solution.”

That grit propelled her decision to enroll in NASA’s L’SPACE Academy – a free, online, interactive program for students interested in aerospace careers. The virtual program not only helped Eliaz get back on the path to becoming an engineer, it armed her with industry relevant skills and insights to land her first internship with Lockheed Martin Space in Colorado.

When Eliaz began researching universities to finish her undergraduate education, CSU stood out for its reputation and scholarship opportunities, but she was most impressed with its welcoming community.

“I felt like I belonged,” said Eliaz. “Whether speaking with people in Financial Aid or the ECE department, people really cared about my success.”

Now, as an astronaut scholar on her way to earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from CSU in May, Eliaz is on a mission to help the next generation succeed.

For the past three years, she has been an official NASA Ambassador leading outreach efforts for the Lucy mission, and she supports Lockheed Martin by creating Instagram reels to shine a light on the company’s deep space missions. At CSU, she serves as founder and president of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space chapter. She also holds positions on the ECE department’s curriculum committee and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee.

“One of my biggest goals is to help others realize that their dreams are attainable,” said Eliaz. “The sky is not the limit.”

One of my biggest goals is to help others realize that their dreams are attainable. The sky is not the limit.”

About CSU’s aerospace program

The Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering brings together a collaborative aerospace ecosystem of researchers, faculty, staff and industry partners. Well-rounded academic and research programs across engineering disciplines offer students a hands-on, applied education. Whether it’s deep-space communication, autonomous UAVs, robotics or using and calibrating sophisticated sensors, students with a passion for aerospace have a home at CSU.