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APS has announced the recipients of its Scholarship for Minority Undergraduate Physics Majors for the 2010 school year. Forty-one students from schools across the country have been assigned mentors and given some financial support to assist them as they pursue their physics degrees.
The scholarship, first set up in 1980, aims to raise the number of underrepresented minority students in physics. It is open to students who are majoring or planning to major in physics and are African-American, Hispanic American, or Native American US citizens or permanent residents.
“It’s important because it encourages and supports minority students’ interest in physics,” said Arlene Modeste Knowles, the scholarship administrator. “I think it also helps the students’ confidence in themselves to know that APS, a leading physics society, recognizes and supports them.”
All the scholarship recipients get a pair of mentors to help guide them through the first two years of school. One mentor is a member or former member of the APS Committee on Minorities in physics. The other is someone from the university’s physics department to be on hand to help guide the student as he or she works towards a bachelor's degree. In addition, Modeste Knowles stays in close contact with the recipients, each of whom is required to meet the chair of their physics department.
The scholarship is merit-based. The APS Committee on Minorities, which picks the recipients, looks for candidates with strong grades, good recommendations, and either formal or informal research experiences.
“Also the enthusiasm and passion for physics and a potential physics career is always helpful,” said Modeste Knowles.
Students who received the scholarship have said that having mentors is a big help.
“It’s really nice to have that extra support because it can be kind of scary going into your first year,” said Sarah Leu, a freshman at MIT from Pasadena, California. “It’s nice having the support that you need.”
Leu first heard about the scholarship from a website that lists available scholarships. Having long been interested in seeing how the universe works, Leu wanted to go into physics and possibly become a researcher for NASA. Two summers ago, she participated in MIT’s Women’s Technology Program, a four week course for female high school students to get hands-on engineering experience.
Over this last summer, she had an internship at NASA’s Jet propulsion lab, where she was able to work on three different projects. She contributed to the design of the landing radar for the next Mars rover, took temperature and pressure readings of the surface of the red planet, and helped collect data from a live experiment as the Cassini probe sent radio signals through the atmosphere of Saturn.
“It was really nice to see physics in the real world,” Leu said.
Another recipient, Olivia Smarr, likewise is looking towards the skies with her physics degree.
“I really really like astrophysics; I think that physics is a field that has endless possibilities for learning,” Smarr said. “Physics is the study of everything.”
A native of the D.C. Metropolitan area, Smarr is starting her first year at Stanford University. She said that while the physics program at her high school was not the strongest, she’s been able to augment it with extracurricular activities. For the last three summers she’s been interning at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. There she contributed to the search for exoplanets, helped analyze the binary star system PDF-144, analyzed data fromhigh energy x-ray binary stars and plotted the interactions of comets with the Sun. In October 2009 she was invited to the lawn of the White House to help teach astronomy to middle school students for President Obama’s star party.
She said that the scholarship will both help her out financially, and provide a strong support network through her mentors.
“I think it was also a good way to get involved with the American Physical Society because I know it’s something I should get involved with as a physics major and as a physicist,” Smarr said.
2010-11 Scholarship Recipient Biographies and Photos
Alexander, Ronald Deshaun
Allen, Eric Pierre
Batie, Margo Alexandra
Boyd, Clifton Samuel
Calhoun, Richard Andrew
Chaves, Jason Reis
Cook, Brent Keith
Cruz, Peter J
Emerick, Andrew James
Johnson, Carrine Marie
Kretz, Ian David
La Placa, Rolando Luis
Leu, Sarah Noelle
Martinez, Daniel D
Medina, Michael Karl
Ndousse, Kamal Kuango
Pardo, Kristina M
Planell-Mendez, Ivette Mylette
Rodriguez, Roberto Alexis
Rowe, Ebony Nicole
Segert, Simon Nicholas
Smarr, Olivia Kamil
Soto, Priscilla Nicolette
Villar, Victoria Ashley
Wagner, Alan Benjamin
Williams, Benjamin Michael
Catanach, Thomas Anthony
Frasier, Johari Menelik
Kelsey, Ashley Simone
Lee, Christina C.
Molina, Mallory Elyse
Ojeda, Steven Matthew
Reyna Liriano, Maritza Del Carmen
Starr, Jessica Montoya
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Editor: Alan Chodos