Makayle Kellison ’25 Earns Goldwater Scholarship

April 17, 2024

By Jessica Firpi ’11

Makayle Kellison ’25
Photo by Scott Cook.

Makayle Kellison ’25 has earned a Goldwater Scholarship, the country’s most prestigious undergraduate scholarship for the STEM fields.

Physics major Makayle Kellison ’25 has earned a 2024 Goldwater Scholarship, the foremost undergraduate award in the STEM fields. She is one of just 508 students to earn the highly selective scholarship from a pool of more than 5,000 applicants.

The award, which was established by Congress in honor of the late Sen. Barry Goldwater, is given to sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers in mathematics, engineering, and the natural sciences. It covers the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.

Kellison plans to pursue a PhD in mechanical or aerospace engineering—a field for which her impressive Rollins career has uniquely prepared her.

Before coming to Rollins, Kellison didn’t know much about physics. But after meeting with physics professor Whitney Coyle for just the second time, Coyle offered Kellison the opportunity to conduct summer research with her. After several weeks in the lab, Kellison decided to change her major to physics, and Coyle’s close guidance soon forged a life-changing mentorship.

Makayle with Maggie Kuffskie and professor Whitney Coyle
Makayle Kellison ’25 and Maggie Kuffskie ’25 working alongside physics professor Whitney Coyle on rocket acoustics research.Photo by Scott Cook.

“I chose to get my degree at Rollins because of the supportive community environment and the individualized learning experiences that the College offers,” shares Kellison. “Without the mentorship and guidance of Dr. Coyle, I might not have discovered my love of physics and scientific research.”

In summer 2022, the pair teamed up on a project through the Student-Faculty Collaborative Scholarship Program researching the musical acoustics of the clarinet. Kellison later researched flue organ pipe acoustics with emeritus physics professor Thom Moore before turning her attention to rocket acoustics. Engaging in multiple types of research has given Kellison the freedom to explore different areas of physics and find her niche, and the emphasis on students taking the lead made for highly valuable real-world experiences.

“Because of the small class sizes and my close relationships with physics professors, I’ve been able to participate in hands-on graduate-level research that wouldn’t be possible anywhere else,” says Kellison.

When NASA launched the Artemis I in November 2022, marking the country’s return to lunar exploration nearly half a century after the conclusion of the Apollo program, Kellison was there, just 11 miles away. Along with fellow physics major Maggie Kuffskie ’25, Kellison watched the rocket propel toward space, collecting data on the impact of its sound with Coyle and a team from Brigham Young University (BYU) led by physics professor Kent Gee.

Makayle Kellison at NASA and in the field

As part of their research, they set up and calibrated microphones around multiple locations inside and outside Kennedy Space Center, recorded the data, and analyzed the findings alongside the BYU team. A year’s worth of research on rocket acoustics that started at Rollins culminated with Kellison and her research team publishing a peer-reviewed article in JASA Express Letters, a scholarly journal devoted to important new research results and technical discussion in all fields of acoustics.

Kellison’s acoustics research has taken her to launch complexes throughout the country, including Vandenberg Space Force Base in California and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, and she has presented her work to audiences at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, several universities, and multiple national and international conferences, like the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Sydney, Australia.

While at Rollins, she’s published five academic papers, including a paper in the Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics (POMA) and a journal article featured on the cover of the November 2023 issue of JASA Express Letters.

Makayle Kellison presenting research and in the field

Kellison has spent her summers making valuable connections as she further explored the world of rocket acoustics, working alongside Gee once again during a summer 2023 research experience at BYU through the prestigious Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program funded by the National Science Foundation.

“The combination of high-level research experiences and liberal arts education that Rollins offers is one of the reasons I felt prepared to apply for the Goldwater Scholarship,” shares Kellison. “I have found that the skills I’ve gained from my non-science classes, such as public speaking and academic writing, are what have allowed me to take the research opportunities I have been offered to the next level and really make the most out of my time at Rollins.”

This summer, Kellison will return to BYU to continue her research as part of the cross-institutional collaborative between physics faculty at Rollins and BYU before returning to Rollins to graduate in December. Her honors thesis focuses on continued analysis of the Artemis I data and developing new systems to establish a rocket noise program at Rollins.

After completing her PhD, Kellison intends to pursue a career that allows her to follow her newfound passion, which will no doubt launch the field of experimental aerospace research into a new orbit.

Students wearing caps and gowns walk to a commencement ceremony on Rollins College’s campus.

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