Our last TAURUS Scholar Spotlight of the summer features Diego Garza, who is a rising senior at the University of Chicago. Diego is working with Prof. Keith Hawkins this summer on the chemical properties of our Galaxy's fastest stars. Prof. Hawkins sat down with him recently to learn more about Diego's passions and interests.KH: Where did you join us from? Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
DG: I am originally from Houston (H-town) born and raised. I went to high school there in Houston. The high school program I was involved in allowed me the opportunity to get an associates degree in science upon graduating high school. Most of my family is in Texas and while I have Mexican-American roots, I decided to go to the University of Chicago for undergrad. So the heat here in Austin, I am used to it.
KH: What drove to you to do undergrad in Chicago?
DG: I had my first interaction with the University of Chicago through the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Youth Leadership Institute. This fund enabled me to go to a program at the University of Chicago for the first time to learn about what college is like and how the application process works. As I went into my senior year, I began applying to college through the Quest-Bridge program; a program designed for underrepresented low-income high school students to apply to many top colleges. The program provides a list of the colleges from which you can rank your top choices and the Quest-Bridge program will help match you to those schools based on your interests. The application process is similar to a “standard” college application but is a bit more detailed. Quest-bridge enabled me to achieve a full ride scholarship. I ended up getting admitted to the University of Chicago.
KH: Astrophysics, what drew you to it? Is there one moment you knew you wanted to study it or was it something that developed?
DG: My interest in astrophysics grew over time. In elementary and middle school I was always interested in science and math and I would ask myself what kind of science would I do. I did small science projects as a kid. Like in middle school, where we had to build a solar system on a poster board and my dad and I did it together. I remember how I would have to google what Jupiter looked like and finding the right paint or colors to match what Jupiter looks like. I remember asking why there is a red spot on Jupiter. Or why Saturn had its rings. I was a curious kid and my dad encouraged me to read books on the topic.
Originally, I had planned on being more of an engineer going into high school, but the more I learned from ‘pop science’ about astronomy it grabbed my attention. So when I entered college, I chose to double major in Physics and Astrophysics.
KH: You must be really busy on campus with so many classes! What other activities or student organization are you involved in at the Univ. of Chicago?
DG: Classes keep me quite busy, especially with the double major. When I do get some time though I enjoy physics tutoring and that led me to become a teaching assistant for a computational techniques course in astrophysics. I also work at the main computer lab at the university and have built a community there and learned a lot about computing and coding.
In terms of extracurriculars I have gotten involved in on campus include Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). I have also gotten involved in ‘Moneythink’, which teaches high-schoolers financial literacy and entrepreneurship. I also work as Vice President within my school’s Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) chapter. I was excited about this because I am interested in the topic. We have done things like rocketry and build model rockets.
Outside of school, I like watching and playing soccer, playing pool, hanging out with friends, and watching TV shows (just finished Mr. Robot).
KH: What made you interested in joining the TAURUS program this summer?
DG: A couple of things: (1) The program’s goals focusing on underrepresented minorities. In this way, I have been able to connect with people that have experiences that are similar to my own in ways I cannot connect with people at my college. (2) UT Austin’s Astro department is pretty good and I wanted to check it out more. (3) It’s in Texas and for me it was kinda like coming home. (4) My brother is in town doing a masters degree in civil engineering.
KH: What excites you most about doing research?
DG: As a kid, I always thought scientists and NASA already had everything figured out. If I googled any question, an answer would come up. What I find exciting is that science isn’t just about doing a small project you might do in a class but research is dynamic, answering the questions that don’t currently have answers. I also like that research is collaborative and a community driven effort to answer key questions.
KH: Tell me about what you do for fun. Do you have any hobbies?
DG: I enjoy watching tv, hanging out with my friends, playing billiards, and playing (and watching) soccer, Houston Dynamo is my favorite team. And I even got to see them play at the Q2 stadium here in Austin. But I grew up watching them play in Houston.
KH: Where do you like to travel, and where do you most want to visit that you haven’t seen yet?
DG: I haven’t had the opportunity to travel that much, I mostly have visited places in Texas, especially the Rio Grande Valley. I’ve been to Florida and Colorado, but I would love to visit Colorado again. I would also like to visit California, Europe (and tour some of their soccer stadiums).
KH: What’s in your future?
DG: I plan on finishing my double major BS degree in Astrophysics and Physics at the University of Chicago and definitely graduate school in Astronomy to obtain a PhD and hopefully be a scientist at NASA.