‘He will be one of the leaders in aerospace engineering’; nontraditional KU student wins Astronaut Scholarship

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World

Julian Moreno is pictured with his wife, Eriyonna, and their 1-year-old daughter, Mya, Friday, July 9, 2021, at their Lawrence home. Moreno, majoring in aerospace engineering at KU, recently earned a scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. He is a five-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Lawrence resident Julian Moreno did not follow the typical path from high school to accomplished scholar.

Instead of going straight to college, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps, and a few years after that he married and started a family.

The uncommon path has taken longer, but it has led to uncommon success for Moreno, a 25-year-old University of Kansas student who recently won a prestigious Astronaut Scholarship. Only 60 of the scholarships were awarded nationally this year, and each came with $15,000.

Moreno also holds a NASA Undergraduate Fellowship through the Kansas Space Grant Consortium.

“I debated on going to college after high school, but I figured I would join instead,” said Moreno of the military, which has attracted practically his whole family.

“My dad was a Navy Corpsman in the Gulf War … and pretty much all my grandparents, most of my cousins, and both of my brothers,” including his little brother who is currently attending the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

Moreno said the family history didn’t pressure him to enlist, though; rather it inspired him.

“My family wanted me to do whatever I wanted to do,” he said. “But you get exposed to the sacrifices they have made … The least I could do was help out for a few years.”

Aside from the experience the military gave him — a six-month deployment in eastern Asia, a chance to see “all the cool stuff that (the U.S. military) either invented or has done throughout the years, and wanting to be a part of that” — it gave him time to think about what he wanted to do with his life.

“I don’t know if I was quite ready to go all the way through college yet,” he said of the period immediately after graduating from Lee’s Summit Senior High School in 2014. “The military was definitely a good place to kind of figure everything out.”

What he landed on was aerospace engineering, and, as luck would have it, one of the best places in the country to study that subject was KU and “very close to home.”

Moreno’s mentor at KU, aerospace engineering professor Shawn Keshmiri, feels like KU is the lucky one, though.

“I am confident he will be one of the leaders in aerospace engineering,” Keshmiri told the Journal-World. “He is smart, sincere, committed and disciplined.”

Moreno came to Keshmiri’s attention when he took Keshmiri’s Flight Dynamics I and Flight Control classes. Keshmiri described the classes as “complex and mathematically intense.”

“I try to ask questions from all students to keep them engaged and to evaluate their depth of knowledge. Every time I asked Julian a question, he not only impressed me with his ability to reproduce the theories, but he went beyond demonstrating a higher level of thinking by providing complex reasoning, which is not common (among) juniors.”

Being an Astronaut Scholar doesn’t mean Moreno will be rocketing off into space — rather the scholarship is so named because it was founded by astronauts in the Mercury program to encourage students to pursue scientific careers — but it does mean he’ll have the financial support to continue his work studying drones: how they move around, how we can control them and make them safer and more useful.

“They’re going to be a lot more prevalent in the future,” he said, adding that many of the details of his work are confidential.

Keshmiri describes the research Moreno is doing at the KU Flight Research Lab as “cutting edge.”

What’s next for Moreno? “The plan is definitely grad school, but whether I get a job first or go straight there depends on whatever falls into place” and what’s best for his family.

“My wife’s been a huge part of everything,” he said.

Moreno and his wife, Eriyonna Moreno, who teaches preschool in Lawrence, knew each other from high school and now have a year-old daughter, Mya.

“She’s pretty cool,” Moreno said of his baby girl. And while studying the wonders of flight is amazing, “my favorite thing is being a father.”

Another KU student, Jonah Stiel, also won an Astronaut Scholarship. Stiel, of Topeka, is a chemistry major and president of the KU Chemistry Club.


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