College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Memorial scholarship launched for first-gen students aiming for the stars

Vincent Pollmeier

Like Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk, Vincent (Vince) Pollmeier (aerospace engineering, ’86) was born in Iowa and found his future in outer space. Now, a scholarship in his name will help first-generation Iowa State undergraduate students reach for the stars.

Richard Chin (electrical engineering, ’86) and his wife Barbara Bahning Chin (graphic design, ’90) have established the Vincent M. Pollmeier Memorial Scholarship in memory of Pollmeier, who passed away in 2020.

The scholarship will provide support for first-generation college students from Iowa majoring in aerospace engineering at Iowa State and is renewable throughout students’ undergraduate careers.

“In his life, Vince did not limit his choices and ambitions to what he was able to observe firsthand. He had faith in unseen possibilities,” says Richard Chin, who met Pollmeier the summer before their first year as engineering undergraduates at Iowa State in 1982.

Vincent Pollmeier

The late Vincent Pollmeier, namesake of the newly-announced scholarship.

A bold journey

Pollmeier grew up on a farm in Fort Madison, Iowa. Chin, by contrast, was the son of a college professor from China who settled in Iowa City. Because of his father’s academic background and career, the idea that Chin would attend college and graduate school was never doubted.

“Our backgrounds were very different,” Chin remarks. “Vince’s desire to study aerospace engineering at Iowa State struck his father as an odd and expensive choice. It took more courage for Vince to go to Iowa State than it did for me since he was the first in his family to go to college. By dedicating this scholarship to his memory, we are recognizing the extent of his bravery and determination as a young man and enabling other aspiring students to follow in his footsteps.”  

After earning his Bachelor of Science from Iowa State, Pollmeier went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin and worked in multiple research and development roles in space technology. He was a researcher at the University of Texas Center for Space Research, involved in the testing and early utilization of prototype GPS satellites, and after graduation served as a principal system engineer with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). During his 12 years at JPL, he worked on several NASA missions and projects, including the Voyager mission to Neptune, the Galileo mission to Jupiter, and multiple missions to Mars.

Additionally, he managed the research and development of advanced tracking, data, and information systems for NASA’s Deep Space Network. Representing NASA and JPL, he was involved in multiple collaborations with international space agencies, including those from Russia and Germany. Pollmeier later earned his juris doctorate by attending night classes at Loyola Marymount University and had a successful second career working for several Los Angeles-area law firms, specializing in litigation involving high-tech patent claims until his death.

Mission accomplished

Through it all, Pollmeier and the Chins remained the best of friends, sharing stories of travel, family, and work over calls and occasional visits. When Chin began flying to California monthly to visit his elderly father, Pollmeier consistently welcomed Chin with late Italian dinners at a Laguna Beach restaurant.

“Though we were not blood relatives, he was always known to our children as ‘Uncle Vince,’” says Chin. “Vince’s story wasn’t just the success story of an Iowan who went on to do amazing things. His character calls to mind the best of Iowa and Iowans. He demonstrated the virtues of neighborliness, self-reliance, charity and tolerance. He was a true and loyal friend.”

The Chins have high hopes for Iowa State students who follow in Pollmeier’s footsteps.

Says Chin, “Our wish for you is that you exemplify Vince’s courage, his curiosity and his humanity. To boldly go where no in your family has gone before.”