Out of this world is one way to describe the top graduating senior at the UC Davis.
After a visit to the Kennedy Space Center when she was in high school, Ashley Coates of Hollister set her sights on a career in the space industry. At UCD, she has excelled in her studies of aerospace science and mechanical engineering and been mentored by a former astronaut. And her experiences included helping to build a virtual-reality headset, reverse-engineering a robotic arm and designing an airplane.
“I’ve always wanted to be the person who sends other people into space,” she said.
Coates is the 2014 recipient of the University Medal for excellence in undergraduate studies, outstanding community service and the promise of future scholarship and contributions to society.
When she receives the award at her commencement on Sunday, she’ll join an elite class of doctors, engineers, professors and others whose work ranges from seeking a cure for cancer to helping the poor in developing countries.
Coates achieved a cumulative grade-point average of 4.0 as she earned a bachelor’s degree with a double major in aerospace science and engineering and mechanical engineering.
Stephen Robinson, a retired NASA astronaut and UCD professor, mentored Coates.
“Ashley Coates is the type of student who will always represent the best of UC Davis, in both technical achievement and community service, and will be a wonderful role model for following generations of Aggies,” he wrote in support of her recognition.
Among Coates’ stellar experiences on campus has been volunteering with the Center for Human/Robotics/Vehicle Integration and Performance. Directed by Robinson, the center conducts research to keep humans alive in extreme and highly hazardous environments, such as space flight, aircraft emergencies and robotic surgery.
In the center’s lab, Coates helped disassemble and study the workings of a robotic arm from NASA and create a helmet-mounted, virtual-reality system for use in the design of cockpits. For a senior team project to design a 75-passenger plane, she designed the landing gear and performed the cost analysis.
Coates will work at NASA’s Johnson Space Center this summer. In the fall, she will begin studies at Stanford University, which named her a graduate fellow and provided a three-year award valued at $240,000.
She plans to focus on computational fluid dynamics — the use of numerical methods and algorithms to analyze and solve problems that involve fluid (think air) flows — as she pursues degrees in aeronautics and astronautics.
Coates hopes to work in the space industry, including NASA, and then as a university professor.
Even now, Coates speaks at schools to encourage girls to consider opportunities in math, science and engineering.
“I know what it is like to be the one girl in the class, and I think I can use that experience to encourage others to follow their dream even if it isn’t the norm,” she said. “There are opportunities out there for all of them to get involved in cool things that interest them.”
Coates grew up steeped in Aggie traditions. Her father, Bill, earned two degrees at UCD and was a UC Cooperative Extension farm adviser. Her brother Ryan graduated from UCD in 2009, and her twin, Darren, will graduate in June.
During her time on campus, Coates played piccolo and flute in the Cal Aggie Marching Band-uh, served as a peer adviser and, as a chancellor’s ambassador, represented students at various events.
Coates will be presented with the medalist’s plaque and a $2,000 honorarium at the College of Engineering commencement at 3 p.m. Sunday in The Pavilion on campus.
The ceremony will be the last of UCD’s spring commencements. The university estimates that it will confer about 8,710 degrees for the 2013-14 academic year.
* Wednesday, June 11: 4 p.m., School of Education, Mondavi Center;
* Thursday, June 12: 4 p.m., Graduate Studies, in the ARC Pavilion;
* Friday, June 13: 10 a.m., School of Veterinary Medicine, Mondavi Center; 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, ARC;
* Saturday, June 14: 9 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., College of Letters and Science, ARC; 10 a.m., Graduate School of Management, Mondavi Center;
* Sunday, June 15: College of Biological Sciences at 9 a.m. in the ARC; College of Engineering at 3 p.m. in the ARC
— UC Davis News