It is not every day you hear someone say that they really enjoy researching and analyzing particles, or that their life goal is to be a nuclear or rocket scientist.

Yet you could hear just that from 19-year-old Catherine Ballard. With encouragement from her parents to pursue her interests, she went from watching a robotics competition to taking part in one to now majoring in nuclear engineering and radiological science at the University of Michigan.

“I want to work on spacecraft and monitoring the radiation they experience,” Ballard said. “I find it really interesting dealing with small particles and their effects.”

Ballard’s enthusiasm for space soared when she joined the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) cadet program during high school and participated in a flight academy. Now a cadet lieutenant colonel in the CAP Michigan Wing’s Ann Arbor-based Maj. Kevin A. Adams Composite Squadron, she works with Students for the Exploration and Development of Space and the Collaborative Lab for Advancing Work in Space— programs that bring together students from several disciplines to work on space-related problems. And she participates in the Michigan Engineering Zone, a group of University of Michigan students and faculty who mentor high school robotics teams in Detroit.

All that combined with a 3.8 grade point average helped Ballard earn this year’s $2,500 scholarship awarded jointly by CAP with Detroit Chapter #9 of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA9). The scholarships support Michigan Wing cadets pursuing their undergraduate or graduate education. Funds can be used for tuition, books and/or room and board.

The scholarship “will help quite a bit,” Ballard said. “I can focus on school and not having to apply to get a bunch of different jobs,” to pay the bills, she added.

“Col. Kothari, Maj. Ballard, Cdt. Lt. Col. Ballard and Richard White celebrate Cdt. Lt. Col Ballard’s award of the 2021 Civil Air Patrol scholarship. This scholarship is a partnership between the Civil Air Patrol Foundation and VV9.”

Col. Rajesh U. Kothari, CAP Michigan Wing commander, said the selection of Cadet Katie Ballard, “recognizes a young person for her hard work, commitment to service and excellence. This scholarship will facilitate her ongoing success and development.”

Added VVA9 President Paul Palazzolo: “We like working with partner organizations to help more young people pursue higher learning.”

CAP, the U.S. Air Force auxiliary, performs search and rescue missions provides post-disaster humanitarian relief, promotes aviation, aerospace and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education; and shapes future leaders through its cadet program.