Student News

UK Junior Kayli Bolton Named Astronaut Scholar

photo of Kayli Bolton on beach
photo of Kayli Bolton holding ASF plaque
photo of Kayli Bolton presenting research at Markey STRONG Scholars Program

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 31, 2021) — University of Kentucky Office of Nationally Competitive Awards has announced biology and Lewis Honors College student Kayli Bolton is one of 2021’s 60 recipients to be awarded a scholarship of up to $15,000 from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF). The ASF Scholarship is presented annually to outstanding college students majoring in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM).

A nonprofit organization, ASF was established by the Mercury Astronauts in 1984. Its goal is to aid the U.S. in retaining its world leadership in science and technology by providing scholarships for exceptional college students pursuing degrees in these fields. Since that time, astronauts from the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle programs have joined in this educational endeavor. UK students have earned a total of $216,000 from the ASF since 1998.

Kayli Bolton is the granddaughter of Linda Mays, of Corbin, Kentucky, and the fiancee of Phillip Brown, of London, Kentucky. She is a junior majoring in biology in the UK College of Arts and Sciences and is a member of the Lewis Honors College. 

It was Bolton’s mother’s breast cancer diagnosis during her sophomore year of high school that influenced the scholar’s choice of studies at college and an interest in biomedical sciences research.

“My mom got treatment, and in my next years of high school she was able to come see all of my dance and marching band competitions, be there for holidays, send me off to the five-week Governor's Scholars Program in the summer, and several other significant life experiences,” Bolton said. “My mom passed away at the beginning of my senior year of high school, and my father then took his own life. While this was the most difficult and tragic time in my life, it is also what drives me the most. I am immensely grateful for the scientists and doctors who were able to give my mom the extra few years that she most likely would not have had otherwise.”

Since the beginning of her freshman year at UK, Bolton has been active in undergraduate research working in Professor Matthew Gentry’s laboratory in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry in the UK College of Medicine. She has had the opportunity to participate in several metabolomics projects concerning glycogen storage diseases in Gentry’s Lab and describes her experience as a crucial launching point for her continued research in graduate school and her career. One of UK's three 2021-22 Goldwater Scholars, Bolton is also part of the Markey STRONG Scholars Program

In addition to Gentry and the members of his lab, Bolton credits neuroscientist Ramon Sun and his lab and the faculty of the UK Department of Biology and Lewis Honors College as influences on her success. In addition, she praises postdoctoral fellow Jessica Macedo, doctoral candidates Lyndsay Young and Zoe Simmons, and Pat Whitlow, director of the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards, as important mentors during her time at UK. 

Upon completion of her bachelor’s degree, Bolton plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. with a focus in biochemistry. Her goal is to eventually conduct research in the biomedical sciences investigating diseases such as cancer in an industry or academic setting.

The Office of Nationally Competitive Awards assists current UK undergraduate and graduate students and recent alumni in applying for external scholarships and fellowships funded by sources (such as a nongovernment foundation or government agency) outside the university. These awards honor exceptional students across the nation. Students who are interested in these opportunities are encouraged to begin work with the office, housed in the Chellgren Center for Undergraduate Excellence, well in advance of the scholarship deadline. Staff is available for in-person and virtual appointments to discuss opportunities for the 2021-2022 academic year and beyond.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.