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Caitlin O'Brien Ohio State Alumna Wins NASA Prize

May 9, 2024

Caitlin O'Brien Ohio State Alumna Wins NASA Prize

Caitlin O'Brien with 3 women receiving award

On April 17th, NASA recognized recent Ohio State graduate, Caitlin O’Brien, as one of the inaugural winners of the prestigious NASA Space Tech Catalyst prize at an award ceremony at the Goddard Space Flight Center. 

The NASA Space Tech Catalyst prize recognizes individuals and organizations that demonstrate outstanding collaboration practices with diverse researchers, technologists, and entrepreneurs. Each selected champion received $25,000 in recognition of their contributions to NASA’s ongoing efforts to develop a representative space technology landscape. Following their selection, award winners will be invited to join the inaugural Space Tech Catalyst cohort for networking and collaboration, facilitating continued engagement with NASA and the exchange of best practices for expanding space technology within diverse communities.

O’Brien is the assistant director of SciAccess, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization advancing disability inclusion and equity in STEM. She graduated from The Ohio State University in May 2023, receiving degrees in Astronomy and Physics with a minor in Science and Engineering in the Public Interest. While at Ohio State, she was named Ohio State Outstanding Senior, and a winner of the President’s Buckeye Accelerator

“Our work began at Ohio State,” said O’Brien. “I am immensely grateful for the ongoing university support enabling us to broaden our impact to a level that has now been recognized by NASA.”

In pursuit of equity in STEM, SciAccess spearheads various international programs, including the annual SciAccess Conference and AstroAccess. The SciAccess 2024 Conference will take place virtually this week on May 10 & 11, 2024, bringing together experts and community members to discuss and advance accessibility in STEM fields. Meanwhile, AstroAccess is a pioneering program dedicated to ensuring that disabled individuals have equal opportunities and access to space exploration initiatives.

SciAccess was founded by another Ohio State alumnus, Anna Voelker, who was named a 2023 Ohio State Diversity Champion earlier this year. Voelker graduated from Ohio State in 2018, having created a custom degree through the university's Personalized Study Program. They received a degree in Science Communication and Accessibility, the only known major of its kind. Anna previously worked with the Ohio State Department of Astronomy as Coordinator of Outreach Programs.

“We are so excited to connect with NASA and its community partners to build the future of accessibility in space,” said Voelker. “This award will further empower us to continue our mission of breaking down barriers and creating a more equitable and accessible future for all, on Earth and beyond."