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MSU student wins Billings-based scholarship for work with last year's solar eclipse

Posted at 2:47 PM, Apr 08, 2024

BILLINGS — Billings native Kendahl Hinthorne loves to be outside, whether it’s skiing, hiking, or honing her craft as a photographer. But the 20-year-old Montana State University junior has taken her passion for photography to even greater heights, the edge of space, in fact.

The mechanical engineering technology major and her team at MSU took this photo of last year’s solar eclipse. It’s this work that’s helped her earn a substantial STEM scholarship from the Billings chapter of the Zonta Club.

A photo of last year's solar eclipse captured by Kendahl Hinthorne and her team at Montana State University.

“I’m able to bring a whole new level in and set all the camera settings, and tweak little things to be able to get pictures like this,” said Hinthorne at Pioneer Park a few weeks ago.

Hinthorne helped capture that photo from the ground in Winnemucca, Nevada, on Oct. 13 last year through an internship with the MSU Montana Space Consortium BOREALIS Ballooning Program.

“We study the effects of the eclipse on the atmosphere... We study gravity waves,” Hinthorne said.

Hinthorne was working with the NASA-sponsored Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project. Hers was one of 34 engineering teams made up of students across the United States, flying high-altitude balloons up to 100,000 feet to capture the eclipse.

Kendahl Hinthorne

“We send up a professional Sony camera, and we get pictures of what’s happens in flight. And so being able to show people pictures, and jump that gap, get people interested in something that seems so big is awesome,” said Hinthorne.

Hinthorne was actually in Indiana this week to capture the Monday eclipse. These accomplishments caught the eye of the Billings chapter of the Zonta Club, an organization that focuses on building a better world for women and girls.
The Zonta Club offers scholarships for education, STEM, and public affairs to young women, hoping to empower them as they transition into the work force.

“I just had a really good feeling about her application going on and winning district. I thought oh, this is going to be a good one,” said Zonta Club scholarship chair, Janet Rivera.

Zonta Club scholarship chair, Janet Rivera

Rivera said that Hinthorne won the scholarship at a local, district, and international level, one of just 30 winners of the international award.

“Our winner at the international level this year, which we’re so excited about, Kendahl Hinthorne, received a total of $7,500,” Rivera said.

“I am just so thankful that I have a community that’s so passionate about helping women in STEM go through. They were so nice,” Hinthorne added.

Kendahl Hinthorne at an engineering lab at Montana State University

She hopes her accomplishments will inspire other young women to do what they love.

“It really inspires me to have younger kids want to be interested in doing engineering and they shouldn’t be thinking about if they’re a minority or if it’s scary, or if they’re not going to fit in. If it’s something that you’re interested in and passionate about, you should just go for it,” said Hinthorne.