Columbia Space Initiative Founders Keenan Albee ’17 and Julia Di ’18 Honored

Columbia mascot Roaree's view from a high-altitude balloon launched by members of the Columbia Space Initiative that reached a height of 108,100 feet.
—Photo courtesy of Columbia Space Initiative

Columbia engineers and space ambassadors Keenan Albee ’17 and Julia Di ’18 have been named among “The 20 Twenties,” a select group of top STEM students representing the “diversity, ingenuity, and remarkable talent” of the next generation of aerospace and defense talent. They will be honored by the Aviation Week Network and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics at a gala in Washington, D.C., on March 2.

In addition to their stellar academic work, Albee and Di are co-founders and co-presidents of the Columbia Space Initiative, a busy hub for everything from NASA design challenges to networking events to hosting practitioners and industry leaders on campus. Since its start in 2015, CSI has grown to about 70 members and has taken on projects including designing a geological sampling device for use in microgravity conditions and launching a high-altitude weather balloon that journeyed more than 100,000 feet above sea level and returned safely back to Earth.

Albee, a senior, has interned with NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center’s Multidisciplinary Aeronautics Research Team Initiative and with Boeing Advanced Space Exploration, and he helps run Columbia’s MakerSpace. Di, a junior, worked as a summer research associate at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center Robotics Academy, designing and programming a novel robotic arm for collecting orbital debris. She has also served as an undergraduate assistant in several labs, including Hod Lipson's Creative Machines Lab.

One of their favorite professors, former NASA astronaut and Professor of Professional Practice in Mechanical Engineering Mike Massimino ’84, inspired them to create the Columbia Space Initiative and nominated them for the honor for their research and outreach. In years to come, Albee hopes to earn a PhD in aerospace engineering and pursue space systems development. Di also plans to earn her PhD in the field and to work on advanced space robotics at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“Mike has always been incredibly supportive of students who want to pursue aerospace engineering,” Di said, “and a big part of the reason we won the award was because of the great community of aerospace students that have coalesced and succeeded at Columbia.”

By Jesse Adams

500 W. 120th St., Mudd 510, New York, NY 10027    212-854-2993