National Merit scholarship winner plans to enter aerospace field
By Matthew Speakman
For the Enquirer
Josh Topliss has always been interested in the space industry, but an internship with NASA his senior year of high school confirmed that it was the career for him.
Topliss spent most of his senior year at Hartselle High driving to Huntsville after school to help NASA with software development.
“I was just even more fascinated by the end of it,” he said. “A big thing was talking to people who had been there for a long time. I wanted to find people who were still enthusiastic for a long time, and I did.”
Topliss said he will study aerospace engineering when he goes to the University of Alabama in the fall.
He won a college-sponsored National Merit Scholarship June 3 after being named a finalist earlier this year. He will receive between $500 and $2,000 annually during his undergraduate studies.
Topliss said his interest in the space industry began when he was a child living near Huntsville, going to the Space and Rocket Center and learning about space exploration in school.
“It really went from a juvenile interest to a passion for a career when I entered high school,” he said. “I was still fascinated with everything I was learning.”
Hartselle High economics and government teacher Jake Miles had Topliss in his AP economics course this past year. He described Topliss as “down to earth” and as someone who wants to know more than the typical student.
“He’s highly-motivated to gain knowledge and problem solve,” Miles said. “He doesn’t do things for the grade. He does them for the understanding.”
Miles also taught Topliss in a Sunday school class when he was in 10th grade. He said he knew Topliss would be successful after meeting him.
“I see him being whatever he wants to be,” Miles said. “There is no limit to his success.”
Officials from the University of Alabama chose their scholarship recipients from a pool of 15,000 National Merit finalists. About 7,600 finalists will receive scholarships.
Topliss’ brothers, Joe and James, were also National Merit finalists. They attended Alabama, too. Topliss said he chose Alabama because of the benefits the school offered.
“They were really generous,” he said. “Also, coming out of college, a lot of companies like Lockheed Martin or Boeing pull from colleges in the state.”
Topliss said he spent most of his internship with NASA working on a new propulsion system. He said working for Lockheed Martin or Raytheon would be a dream scenario for him after college.