Namrah Habib's first internship came in the second semester of her freshman year at the University of Arizona, when she was hired as an image processing intern. Her job was to count rocks.
Four years later, she is counting the scholarships she is being awarded for her undergraduate work as an aerospace and chemical engineering double major.
The Winston Churchill Foundation recently awarded Habib a 2018 Churchill Scholarship, which provides funding to American students for a year of master's study in science, mathematics and engineering at the University of Cambridge. Habib previously was awarded a 2017 Astronaut Scholarship by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.
The Churchill Scholarship allows scholars from the U.K. and U.S. to work together to advance science and technology. Habib will have the opportunity to perform independent research at Churchill College with future colleagues from around the world. Churchill is the only college at Cambridge that is focused on STEM subjects.
Habib is one of 16 students to receive a 2018 Churchill Scholarship. The awards, worth $50,000 to $60,000 each, cover full tuition, a stipend, travel costs and the chance to apply for a $2,000 special research grant. Habib will pursue a Master of Philosophy in Astronomy at the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge.
Habib, a senior, moved to Tucson from Iowa when she was in high school. As a transfer student, she did not know many people until she began taking part in science clubs, where she began making friends and felt like she was part of something. The situation repeated itself when she started as a freshman at the UA.
"My first semester on campus, I was really intimidated," Habib says. "I had to really push myself to go out and join clubs and look for other opportunities available."
Habib met a student member of the UA Space Exploration and Development Club who invited her to join the club and work on a micrographing project. Once again, she felt an immediate sense of belonging.
Science always has interested her. Conversations around the family dinner table when she was young often involved her father, a doctor, stumping her and her siblings with science questions while her mother would discuss mathematics.
Habib laughs at the memories. Her parents wanted her to be a doctor — so, of course, she wanted to do anything else.
"I had one goal," she says. "Not to be a doctor."
These days, when the family gets together for dinner, Habib volleys back questions that stump her father.
"Now it's easy, because he doesn't know physics," she says with a laugh.
She is grateful for her parents' support, which has positioned her to study abroad in a way that few ever have the opportunity to do.
One of Habib's most rewarding moments as an undergraduate stemmed from her work performing research for NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission. Her work as an image processing intern for the mission began in 2013, two years after the project received its funding. She attended the OSIRIS-REx launch on Sept. 8, 2016.
"It was a phenomenal moment," Habib says. "Just to know that something I worked on and people around me worked on was actually going to happen, and that it was going to do something big — it was just a very surreal moment."