APS News

Committee Selects Twenty-seven Undergraduate Minority Scholars

The APS Committee on Minorities has selected 27 students to receive its Scholarship for Minority Undergraduate Physics Majors for 2005-2006. The recipients include 16 new scholars and 11 renewal scholars.

Each new scholarship consists of $2,000, which may be renewed once, for $3,000. The scholarship may be used for tuition, room and board, and educational materials. In addition, minority scholars are paired with two mentors, one at their university and one from the Committee on Minorities. Physics departments that host a minority scholar each receive $500 for programs to encourage minority students.

The program, formerly known as the Corporate-Sponsored Scholarship for Minority Undergraduate Students Who Major in Physics, began in 1980. Since then, more than 300 students have received the scholarship, many of whom have gone on to receive PhDs in physics and are now working as physics faculty members in universities, as well as at corporations and national labs. Some past scholars have also become high school physics teachers.

The new minority scholars for 2005-2006 are a diverse group. They come from all over the country, including Puerto Rico. Among the 16 new scholars, four are women. They have all amassed an impressive number of awards and honors. Some have already engaged in physics research projects. In addition to their scholarly pursuits, these students participate in a dizzying number of activities, from sports to music to student government to volunteer work. The Scholars will attend diverse institutions, including Ivy League universities and historically black colleges and universities. They have expressed interest in many areas of physics, including astrophysics, biophysics, and nuclear physics. One plans to become a doctor, another dreams of becoming an astrophysicist with NASA. But they are alike in their passion for physics, their curiosity about how the world works, and their love of solving problems.

A member of the Chippewa tribe, new minority scholar Anton Gereau, says he wants to go into nuclear physics, in part because he is concerned about pollution and the need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. He also just likes solving physics problems. “I like that it gives me a real-world scenario to use math,” he says. Gereau says he first became interested in physics, somewhat by chance, in eighth grade. “I had to do a report on someone, and I just happened to choose Einstein,” he says. Gereau also enjoys scuba diving, rock climbing, and reading. He’s spending the summer in California before heading off to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the fall.

Lara Autrey-Rodriguez, of Houston, Texas, is a determined young woman who will be attending Yale University in the fall. In 11th grade, physics was not a required class, but she decided to try it, and found she loved the subject. Physics appeals to her because it shows “how everything fits together,” she says. She admits she has some fears about studying physics in college. “Physics is a real challenge. I’m scared of doing physics, but I want to challenge myself.” Autrey-Rodriguez believes she can break the stereotype of physics being for nerdy white males. “Usually you don’t see a lot of women. That actually motivates me. I could break the stereotype. I have to have faith in myself. I’m good at it and I’m a woman.” Among other activities, this summer Autrey-Rodriguez is teaching English at a summer program for students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. In addition to her other interests, she says, “I have a strong passion for Latin American culture.” She has even considered a career combining that passion with a physics background, possibly working in a Latin American country where she could use her physics training to improve the infrastructure.

Minority scholar Rodrigo Farnham, originally from Brazil and now living in Slidell, Louisiana, thinks he might eventually go into theoretical physics. He likes “being able to predict what’s going to happen,” as physics enables him to do. As a project in 12th grade, he and a partner designed and built a trebuchet, a medieval siege weapon used to throw large rocks, or sometimes rotting animal carcasses, at the enemy. Instead of dead cows, Farnham’s 15-foot-tall device threw cantaloupes across a football field. In a perfect demonstration of projectile motion, the cantaloupes flew about a hundred yards, Farnham says. Strangely, he notes, the machine did not do so well with pumpkins, which actually flew backwards. In addition to hurling fruit, Farnham also likes chess and playing the violin. “I couldn’t have done it without my parents' support,” he says of his many accomplishments. He will attend Louisiana State University in the fall. Farnham says he is already in touch with physicists at LSU who are helping and encouraging him in his study of physics.

The endless possibilities of space attracted Sarajane Williams, of Prairie View, Texas, to the study of physics. She has been fascinated by stargazing and by reading books about space. Last summer, she took an astronomy class at Harvard, and was especially intrigued by black holes. Williams says she’s not at all discouraged by the low numbers of women and minorities in physics. “I was never really fazed by that,” she says. She says she has been influenced and encouraged by the successful women in her life, including her mother. Williams enjoys acting, singing, dancing and writing. Recently she was a lead attorney in “Waller County Teen Court,” which basically functions like a real court of law, except that teenagers run it. Offenders can be sentenced to community service. Because she has participated in many summer classes and activities in the past few years, Williams plans to spend most of this summer at home, relaxing. “It seems like I’ve always been going, going, going,” she says. In the fall she will be going to Yale University. Williams wants to share her outlook on life: “I want to encourage people to not doubt themselves. People are too afraid to try new things.” Her motto, she says, is: “If in doubt, do it anyway.” Many of the new minority scholars seem to have followed that advice as well.

Any African-American, Hispanic American, or Native American US citizen or permanent resident who is majoring or planning to major in physics, and who is a high school senior, college freshman, or sophomore is eligible to apply for the scholarship. The selection committee especially encourages applications from students enrolled in institutions with historically African American, Hispanic or Native American enrollment.

Information about the scholarship can be found at http://www.aps.org/programs/minorities/honors/scholarship/index.cfm.

New Scholarships:
Lara Autrey-Rodriguez
Luis Bryce
Marissa Cevallos
Okenna Egwu
Rodrigo Farnham
Anton Gereau
Collin Joseph
Hassan Korre
Marc Martinez
Eric Paniagua
Aaron Pollack
Matthew Rickert
Eduardo Ruiz-Rivera
Casey Stevens
Luis Vargas
Sarajane Williams

Samuel Alemayehu
Peter Blair
Micaela Casas
Brian Chavarria
Bree Guerra
Christopher Hain
Gilbert Lee IV
Michael Maindi
Jeremy Morales
James Silva
Sharon Torres

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff