Student News

UK freshman awarded prestigious national aerospace fellowship

Lordina Mensah is UK’s first student to be accepted into the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship, a nationally competitive aerospace fellowship program. Photo by Eric Sanders | UK College of Engineering.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 28, 2023) University of Kentucky freshman Lordina Mensah recently became the university's first student to be accepted into the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship, a nationally competitive aerospace fellowship program.

Mensah is a dual major in the College of Communication and Information’s information communication technology (ICT) program and the College of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. She is also a member of the Lewis Honors College.

The Patti Grace Smith Fellowship, established in 2020, is a competitive program that partners prospective Black undergraduate students with an aerospace laboratory across the country. This year the fellowship was awarded to 31 undergraduate students from 22 colleges and universities across the country. As a part of the program, Mensah and the other fellows will complete a summer internship, receive a scholarship and be paired with a mentor.

Mensah will intern with the software team at Venturi Astrolab in Hawthorne, California. The company currently focuses on building rovers that can be sent to the moon or Mars to further knowledge of these interstellar landscapes. Mensah said the company is small, and that this small, intimate environment where “people know people” can help her get the most experience out of her internship.

Mensah currently does undergraduate research with Luke Bradley, Ph.D., professor and acting chair of the Department of Neuroscience in the College of Medicine and faculty member in the Lewis Honors College and in the cross-college neuroscience undergraduate major program in the College of Arts and Sciences. In his lab, Mensah is studying how data sonification can turn amino acid sequences into music as a teaching tool for introductory STEM students. She was introduced to Bradley’s lab through the STEM Through Authentic Research Training (START) program in her junior year of high school.

The START program seeks to support middle and high schoolers in underrepresented populations by helping them gain experience through mentorship, research and professional development activities in STEM. Throughout her time in the lab, Bradley has served as a mentor to Mensah, and he encouraged her to apply for the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship.

“I wouldn’t have this fellowship if it wasn’t for my team, especially Dr. Bradley, who helped me so much,” Mensah said. “He is a big part of my team, and he inspires me every day.”

Mensah aspires to become a STEM educator, with plans to pursue a graduate program in STEM education, and hopes that gaining experience from the fellowship will pave the way. She said that she would like to lean on her ICT degree and this fellowship experience to better help her future education; she is committed to expanding computer policy and technology advancement to create the best learning experience for future STEM students. Mensah also hopes to use her ICT degree to help her be more efficiently equipped to take on the task of educating and encouraging students that are interested in STEM.

“I want to start kids young in STEM education by being an advocate for them and stepping behind them,” Mensah said.

About the START program

The START program is housed in the UK College of Medicine Department of Neuroscience and is led by faculty and staff from the College of Medicine, College of Education and Transformative Learning’s Integrated Success Coaching. It is funded by a five-year, $1.3 million Science Education Partnership Award from the National Institutes of Health.

Local organizations involved with UK START include Fayette County Public Schools, the Academies of Lexington, STEAM Academy, The Learning Center, the Kentucky-West Virginia Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program, Higher Orbits, Humanity in Deep Space and Space Tango, a Lexington-based STEM company.

Learn more at

About the UK Office of Nationally Competitive Awards

The UK Office of Nationally Competitive Awards assists current undergraduate and graduate students and recent alumni in applying for external fellowships and scholarships funded by sources (such as a nongovernment foundation or government agency) outside the university. These major awards honor exceptional students across the nation. Students who are interested in these opportunities are encouraged to begin work with the office's director, Pat Whitlow, well in advance of the scholarship deadline.

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