Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Scholar Spotlight: Diana Gonzalez-Argúeta

 The last TAURUS scholar spotlight of 2021 highlights Diana Gonzalez-Argúeta from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.  She recently sat down with one of her mentors, Prof. Caroline Morley, where they discussed background, community, science, and hobbies.

Diana Gonzalez-Argúeta comes to UT Austin this summer from New Jersey, where she attends the New Jersey Institute of Technology after transferring from Hudson County Community College. She’s been working during the TAURUS program this summer with Dr. Michael Gully-Santiago and Prof. Caroline Morley to understand substellar atmospheres using comparisons between high-resolution infrared spectra from the Keck telescopes and atmosphere models. 

Her family is originally from El Salvador, and Diana grew up in a vibrant Latinx community in New Jersey filled with families from across Central and South America. She is passionate about science communication — one of her particular passions is bringing physics, astronomy, and science back to her community. In the future, one of her major goals is to serve as a medium between the academic world and Latinx communities like the one she grew up in, explaining science concepts in terms that her friends and family would connect with. 

Outside of academics, Diana loves both art and music. She has picked up several different instruments, including the guitar! 

Diana says that she’s learned a lot this summer during the TAURUS program, about both science and herself as a scientist. She is excited to apply to graduate school and get her PhD in the coming years. She’ll be applying to graduate schools in 2022, so look for her application then! 

Along with the other TAURUS Scholars, Diana will be attending the AAS meeting in Salt Lake City in January 2022, so be sure to reach out to meet her if you plan on attending!

Friday, July 30, 2021

Scholar Spotlight: Karina Kimani-Stewart

Today's scholar spotlight features Karina Kimani-Stewart who is a rising junior at Texas Tech University and is excited to pursue a career in astrophysics.  This summer she is working with Prof. Caroline Morley and Dr. Michael Gully-Santiago ("Gully") on understanding exoplanet atmospheres.  Gully sat down with Karina to learn more.

MGSWhat got you interested in astronomy?

KKSAs predictable as it sounds, I've always felt drawn to astronomy -- I was the kid who spent summer at space camp! Knowing that there are questions we don't even know to ask yet about worlds we don't even know exist yet is the most fascinating thought. 

MGSWhat’s an example of something you learned at the TAURUS program so far?

KKS: Spending this time in TAURUS has taught me to become comfortable with pursuing the unknown. I mean this not only in the scientific sense, but also in the social sense. The way is not yet clearly paved for me or any other young, woman of color in this field. That is why I'm thankful that this program has given me the opportunity to find what it means to be not only an astronomy researcher, but an African-American astronomy researcher.

MGSWhat’s been the hardest part of research so far?

KKS: The biggest challenge has been changing my mindset. In school, we're always told "Here's the problem and the answer. Show me how to get there." Whereas here, we're told "Here's the problem and the answer we think might be correct. Show me how to get there." The reason we do what we do is because we are legitimately looking for answers that don't yet exist. As you have taught me, it is important to approach this work with a compass rather than a map, and that shift in thought has been difficult yet rewarding.

MGSWhat do you want people to know about you?

KKS: I believe we, as a scientific community, should focus less on trying to get ahead of one another and more on working to progress together. Rather than viewing education as a competition for "best (fill in the blank)" or "highest achievement in (fill in the blank)", we should put more emphasis on our contributions to the bigger picture.

MGSIf you could time travel to 2030, what would you hope to see about the world and about yourself?

KKS: In 2030, I hope to see that the world became more comfortable with adapting to change. As for myself, I hope to look back at the last nine years and see that I did not waste a single opportunity to learn something new. If I can look back and truthfully say that I did everything in my power to become a better, more knowledgeable person, I'd call that a success!

Karina will be presenting her research at the upcoming winter AAS meeting in Salt Lake City, in January 2022.  She's looking forward to meeting up with you there

Monday, July 26, 2021

Scholar Spotlight: Stefany Fabian Dubon

Stefany is from the Republic of El Salvador, a country in Central America. She is now pursuing a major in physics at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. This summer, Stefany analyzes the physical conditions and chemical abundances of a local sample of star-forming galaxies using optical spectra from SDSS, MUSE, and LBT data. In the TAURUS program, she is being supported by Prof. Danielle Berg and Dr. Karla Z. Arellano-Córdova. For Stefany, this is her first internship, which makes this adventure more exciting and many things to learn and experiment with. 

KZAC: Why did you select astronomy as your first internship?

SFB: I knew that I wanted to do something in physics since that is my field, but you know astronomy gives me the chance to learn about something bigger than myself, and to study things like stars and planets, which I’ve been curious about for a while. When I found and read about this internship, I instantly realized that I wanted to be a part of it; not only because it would give me the opportunity to work in a field I found so interesting and wanted to learn about, but also because one of its main goals is to create a community for minorities and underrepresented students, which I belong to. It gave me the chance as a latina, women of color to be surrounded by amazing people with similar backgrounds, who share a love for astronomy and who I can learn from! 

KZAC: What most excites you about doing research?

SFB: Just everything, literally! I just, I love how there is not one specific way to do it. You can use different paths, you know, you can find an answer but even if you get one answer, that answer will bring more questions. Having so many possibilities and so many uncertainties and knowing that you have the answer to this thing, there are still a bunch of other things that you can still research. You can learn something new every day! Everything that you are doing is learning! I feel like research just gives you that chance, the opportunity, to do everything that you want and learn along the way.

KZAC: In your opinion, what qualities make astronomy so unique and compelling?

SFB: The fact is that it is such a diverse field, it is not limited to just learning about a specific topic. It is about the whole Universe! There are countless things we can learn about. You can study stars, planets and so on, you can find something to learn about in each corner of the Universe. I feel like in astronomy you are always gaining knowledge, and at least to me, it puts in perspective the role we as humans play and where we belong in the Universe. 

KZAC: How do you feel other aspects of your life have impacted your view on STEM careers?

Stefany has a twin who is also involved in science (in biology)!  

SFB: That’s a good question! Honestly, I’ve had a love for science since I can remember and that has always been reflected in my personal life. My older sisters are in other career paths than my twin and I, and I guess seeing their work life has made me more sure of my decision to have a STEM career. You know, throughout college, I’ve taken multiple humanities classes, where we discuss race, social constructs and other social aspects, and having participated in these classes has made me realize that in STEM, there is a big need to talk about social issues. It just seems that because there is always a focus on making new discoveries, we kinda forget that we are still a part of society and thus we should also be working to improve it. There is also a big lack of diversity in STEM careers! Something that I honestly hope we will continue to improve as we keep on moving forward.

KZAC: Tell us more about you, what do you do for fun?

SFB: I really enjoy binge watching shows! I love trying new foods, bicycling, and just exploring! I love camping because it allows me to be surrounded by only nature, and it reminds me how important it is to take care of the environment. I guess in a way my love for nature reminds me that despite loving the study of stars, other planets and galaxies, we humans still have earth to take care of, and we shouldn’t forget that!

KZAC: What advice would you give to high school and undergraduate students of color interested in following your path?

SFB: I think that I would like to tell them to not get discouraged by the obstacles they will have to face as a person of color. You know, we are such a small community in this field, and there will be times where people will tell you that you don't belong here. That is 100% untrue. You should be a part of this field, and you have nothing to prove to others because you deserve to be here as much as anyone else. I also think it is extremely important to find your own people, someone who can support you and give you the advice/help that you need. I would also tell them to not let fear stop you! Keep your head held high and go for whatever goal you want!

KZAC: A last message of Stefany for as a latina woman:

SFB: Be proud of your heritage and who you represent! Because just as you are inspired by other people that look like you, there will be others who will look up at you in inspiration! You should be proud of your background and all the hard work you’ve done! Because the hardships that we have had to overcome is what has shaped us to be the people we are today! And don't ever let other people diminish or take away that!

Stefany will present her research at the American Astronomical Society’s general meeting this January. She is also motivated to get a minor in computer science. Stefany looks for adventures in science and she is looking for a graduate program where she has never been before, perhaps in another country/city. She will love to be an astronomer, but with the vision to keep learning whatever she decides in her professional life! I am sure that we will hear amazing things about her and her research shortly. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Scholar Spotlight: Mikayla Wilson

Mikayla Wilson is a rising senior at Texas Christian University majoring in Astronomy and Physics. This summer she is working with Dr. Ben Tofflemire on a project to characterize a young eclipsing binary system using TESS light curves and near-infrared spectra from the IGRINS spectrograph. She recently sat down with Ben to talk about her career path. 

BT: What inspired you pursue a career in science generally and astronomy specifically?

MW: I think I’ve always been the type of person to just do whatever I think is interesting, without worrying too much about the practical side of things. In high school we had “majors”, and mine was Audio-Visual, which is very different from what I do now. But the approach I took was the same one I had for college, I thought “oh, this seems cool, I would enjoy it, so I’m going to do it.” I have liked astronomy since I was younger, but I wasn’t the kid with a telescope who went to observatories or anything, I just thought science was cool. So, when I got to college and astronomy was an option I picked it, and I’m glad I did. I love it so much, and I don’t think that any other major would have been as right for me. 

BT: Have there been any specific challenges you’ve faced on your path through college? 

MW: I thought about switching my major to sociology during my first semester, but looking back, I think that was more to do with the culture shock and difficulties I had transitioning from my high school. My high school was mostly made up of students of color from low income households, so moving to a private, predominantly white school was tough. I convinced myself my major was the problem, but I’m really glad I stuck it out in the end.

BT: That does sound tough. Tell me more about how you navigated that transition and how you were able to get through it.

MW: It’s kind of weird to think about, but I realized that I didn’t see myself as a minority until I was put into a predominantly white environment. My high school was half black, half Mexican, and going to TCU was so different. Most of the students had been in private school their entire lives and for many of them, TCU was the most diverse environment that they’d ever been in. 

At the same time, since I was coming from a public school, there was a gap in knowledge and I felt like I had to catch up to kids that had access to more resources growing up. On top of that, I’m the oldest child in my family and a first-generation college student. It was hard, but at the same time it pushed me towards multicultural groups and clubs that helped me to better understand and appreciate my culture. I finally found spaces with people I could relate to and who could support me.

BT: Are there any mentors of yours that have been helpful or inspiring along the way?

MW: Dr. Peter Frinchaboy is my man! For everything! He has been so awesome. He has been open about his background with me, and I’ve been able to relate to him more than with other professors. I’m so glad I have him as a mentor. There was an activity during one of the TAURUS seminars that gave this long list of different types of mentors you should have, and he was in every section for me, he just does so much, he’s so helpful, and a great professor. He gives great advice, and I feel like he genuinely understands whenever I talk to him about any issues I’m dealing with. He was also my only professor that dedicated class time to have a discussion and to educate students about Black Lives Matter. I feel like in STEM classes nobody does that, so to me, that was really special. 

BT: Wow, he sounds great! 

What advice would you give to high school and undergraduate students of color who are interested in following in your footsteps?

MW: You have to have a little bit of stubbornness in you. If you really care about it, stick with it because it will work out if you’re putting in the work. There are always going to be people, or messages from society telling you that you can’t do it, so find other students or professors that can support you by boosting up your confidence to keep you moving forward. I can’t say don’t doubt yourself, because I doubt myself sometimes too, but in the end I’m just stubborn as hell, and it’s something that I really want. You can do it!

BT: What are you most proud of?

MW: I would say I am really proud of making it to this point in my career. I never would have imagined that I would have had multiple research opportunities and the chance to be involved in educating people about issues in the field. For a minute, I wasn’t sure I was going to stay an astronomy major. It was a stressful point for me, so looking back now I can see that I’ve learned so much. Even comparing myself to last Summer, I’ve grown as a researcher, I’m much better at coding, problem solving, and it’s just really nice to see that change. Like I said, I doubt myself sometimes, so reminding myself that I’m on a good trajectory, allows me to give myself some grace. I’m just super proud of where I’m at right now and grateful to those who helped me get here.

BT: I agree!

Mikayla will be presenting her research at the American Astronomical Society’s general meeting this January. Mikayla is applying to graduate schools this fall, so make sure to stop by her poster to learn more about this rising star (pun intended) and her amazing work!

Friday, July 16, 2021

Scholar Spotlight: Imani Dindy

Imani Dindy is a rising senior physics major at Oklahoma State University. This summer he is working with Dr. Justin Spilker to study the galactic wind in the M82 galaxy using far-infrared data from the SOFIA telescope.

JS: Tell me a little about yourself. What drew you to physics and astronomy?

ID: I have always been a fan of science fiction, even though the physics in most of the movies and shows I watched were nonexistent it started a love for science at a young age.

JS: What’s your favorite sci-fi universe?

ID: Any of them where they use science-y sounding language even if it’s not realistic. It sounds silly now that I have a degree in physics, but I love the quantum realm, gigawatts, all of it! Also growing up I watched the Carl Sagan version of Cosmos and learned a lot from that.

JS: What has been your biggest challenge to pursuing a career in STEM?

ID: The fact that I am the only student of color in my classes has been stressful; you start feeling as if you don’t belong even when you’re just as qualified as everyone else in the room. Being in TAURUS everyone has had relatable experiences to mine so it’s refreshing to talk to others about it.

JS: Your first research project was in physics. How has your first astronomy-focused research project been similar or different?

ID: Both projects involved dealing with a decent amount of data which made python a necessary tool. The only difference is since my first project was in particle physics we dealt with four-vectors which was overly complicated and took way too much time to get used to.

JS: Ha, no wonder you’ve managed to do so well with the complicated data we have from SOFIA - it must be simple in comparison! Can you tell me a bit about a time you felt particularly proud of something you accomplished, in research or otherwise?

ID: I know the other TAURUS students probably feel this way, or something similar, but I was overjoyed when I was accepted into this program. Being a first generation college student and coming from an area where people that look like me don’t think of science as a career is a possibility, making it this far is something that three or four years ago would not have been conceivable.

JS: Do you have any tips or advice for undergrad students who might want to follow a similar path to you?

ID: Build professional relationships with professors whose research aligns with your interest. Don’t be discouraged to reach out and ask to visit their lab or to simply ask a few questions. Most professors are excited to talk to students who show interest in their work and look forward to helping you.

JS: Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?

ID: I see myself finishing up grad school and hopefully having a few postdoc offers. Along the way I would like to establish a few science programs at my old elementary school, where the teachers didn’t have a lot of resources for students who like science like me. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Scholar Spotlight: Amanda Lue

Amanda Lue is a rising senior at Colgate University majoring in physics and astronomy, working with Dr. David Guszejnov to study the distribution of gas in star forming clouds. She sat down with her mentor recently to discuss her journey of becoming a scientist.

DG: What made you decide to be a scientist?

AL: I have always preferred science topics to humanities, but I wasn’t one of those people who dreamt of being an astronomer from a young age. It was more of a process. What mainly appealed to me in scientific research is that you don’t know what the answer will be, you might have an idea, but you don’t really know. We are not working on going from A to B, but exploring. I also like how collaborative science is, how we build upon ideas from people all over the world, both present and past. I like being a part of the great human endeavor to build our collective knowledge.  

DG: How did your previous experiences impact your view on STEM careers? When was the first time you saw yourself as a scientist?

AL:  As a first-generation college student for a long time I have only seen myself as someone learning what others have done in science. The first time I realized that I could be a part of the people contributing to this body of knowledge was when I got to my undergraduate institution and found out about the research opportunities they had with professors. Having a science question and going out to find an answer, doing the actual work instead of just learning about it in class made me realize that I could be a part of this.

DG: Tell us about yourself, what do you do for fun?

AL: I like hiking, as long as it's not too steep, so that my mind is not completely preoccupied with the hike itself. I like camping, visiting dark sky spots and just being in nature. I am also into painting and I like using pastels. I mostly do impressionist landscapes; I love how it can look really messy close up, but if one takes a step back and squints it suddenly looks beautiful.

DG: Becoming a scientist is not easy. Have you faced many challenges in getting this far?

AL: It was not at all easy. I am from Jamaica and I knew that I wanted to go abroad to find a good physics or astronomy program. Unfortunately, I knew very little about how to do that, as I am the first one in my family to go to university, especially one in a different country. There were agencies that could help, but we couldn’t afford those, so I had to do all the research on the process, like SATs, visas, by myself.  
Even after being accepted to Colgate I found new challenges there, like being one of the very few women or persons of color in physics classes. Being a first-generation college student, I had no idea how things really worked, I had to build my own support network. I also wanted to go to graduate school but I did not know what one needs to do during undergrad to get there.

DG: What advice would you give to a high school or undergraduate student from a similar background as yours who would want to follow the same path as you?

AL: Students coming to a foreign school often feel isolated. For example, my school is a predominantly white institution, people from the Caribbean are few and far between. But they are there and I would advise incoming students to seek out others at the university with similar backgrounds and shared experiences, who understand their issues and can help them. This is one of the main reasons that I am one of the co-leaders of the
local Caribbean Students Association at my school. 

Amanda will be presenting her results at the AAS winter meeting in 2022 and she will also planning to apply for graduate school this Fall and continue doing research in astronomy.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Scholar Spotlight: Rebeca Soto Armendariz

Rebeca Soto recently graduated from Angelo State University and will be attending Arizona State University as a graduate student in astronomy in the fall of 2021.  This summer she is working with Prof. Brendan Bowler on the orbital properties of planet-hosting binaries as part of the TAURUS research program at The University of Texas at Austin.

BB: What inspired you to pursue a career in astronomy or science in general?  What draws you to science in the first place?

RS: Since I was a child I always loved looking at the stars.  I remember going to a small town in Mexico where my dad is from; it had very dark skies and made me fall in love with astronomy.  My bed used to be next to the window and every night I would spend a lot of time looking up and seeing how the stars and planets moved.

When I got to high school I had a physics teacher who inspired me to go into STEM.  I always liked math and physics but seeing another woman doing something similar, and seeing how good she was at it, was important to me.  In high school I used to do a lot of reading, which also motivated me to study astronomy.

BB: Please tell me more about yourself. What do you do for fun?

RS: I was born and raised in Mexico.  I moved to the US four years ago for college and I really like it here.  My plan at first was to finish college and go back home but I now want to stay for longer.

I like to read, especially novels, and I enjoy spending time with other people.  I’ve been socializing with other TAURUS students; we’ve gone to dinners and went swimming at Zilker.  It was nice!

BB: In your opinion, what qualities make astronomy so unique and compelling?

RS: It’s amazing to me that we can study objects so far away.  I also like how creative astronomers get to be in their work.  The field also seems very social; everyone seems open and wanting to help when questions come up. 

BB: Is there anything that you’re particularly proud of that you’d like to share— for example, something that’s happened along your academic or personal trajectory?

RS: I’m really proud of getting my Bachelor’s degree.  It’s been a goal since I was a child.  I’m also proud that I graduated Magna Cum Laude, which was a personal goal of mine to show my parents how appreciative I am of their support.  Getting into graduate school was also a big deal!  Applying to graduate schools was challenging because it’s always seemed distant to me.

BB: What mentors, teachers, or role models have been the most inspiring to you in your life?

RS: Definitely my parents; they always supported me and helped me pursue my dreams.  My brother, who’s smart, hard working, and determined.  He’s always been a role model for me.  Within astronomy, my advisor as an undergrad—Dr. Carrell—who first got me into research.  He explained how everything worked, especially applications for graduate school.  

BB: What challenges and obstacles have you faced in your career? How have you overcome these challenges? 

RS: Not having English as a first language is something I’ve struggled with.  It’s always been harder to pay attention in class because I needed to focus.  I also find that it can be challenging reading scientific papers.  I feel like I’ve had to think more about what I’m going to say than others.  My accent has also made me self conscience.  It’s been one of my biggest obstacles, especially when I present in English, but the ability to speak two languages also has advantages.

BB: You’ll be heading to the Arizona State University for graduate school next month— congratulations!  What are you most looking forward to at ASU?

RS: I’ve heard from several professors that graduate school is the best and the worst of times.  I’m looking forward to the learning and the growth.  I’m also excited to be working on my own research.  It’s scary but I’m looking forward to it.  Also, as an undergrad my main focus has been in physics, but my passion is in astronomy, so I can’t wait to pursue that more at ASU.

BB: What advice would you give to high school and undergraduate students interested in following your path?

RS: I would tell them to not give up.  There’s a misconception that in astronomy, physics, and STEM that you have to be very smart, and have to be very good at math.  But it’s also about being resourceful and working very hard.  If you’re not the best at math, go the extra mile and don’t give up.  Don’t be discouraged because you don’t think you’re smart enough.

BB: What are your future and long-term career goals?

RS: In the short-term I’ll be going to grad school and getting my PhD.  I plan to study galaxy evolution, but I’d like to also continue carrying out some research in exoplanets, maybe as a second research project.  

Beyond that, I would like to become a professor because from what I’ve seen it’s a great job.  You get to do research on work you’re interested in, and you can continually learn from other people.  It’s a great position where you can help students.  I would especially like to support students with my same background because it can be easier to for both sides to relate to each other based on common experiences and struggles. 

I’m really glad for TAURUS, especially as an international student.  I feel supported and I like that I can meet other students with similar backgrounds, especially Hispanic students because I don’t know that many.