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Despite Challenging Year, Black Hole Researcher, Physics Grad: ‘We Did It!’

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I have been waiting for this day to come for a very long time. I wanted to take physics in high school, but because I struggled with math and my high school counselor advised against it. I vowed that I would never major in a subject that involved a lot of math, but here I am. I struggled with housing insecurity my first semester of community college — and I had no idea what I was doing since I am the first person in my family to graduate from college. But obtaining a college degree has always been extremely important to me, so I stuck with it. 

When I was still at community college, I took an introduction to astronomy class that once again piqued my curiosity in learning physics. During that same semester, I was introduced to Dr. (Joshua) Smith and Dr. (Geoffrey) Lovelace during a visit to the Nicholas and Lee Begovich Center for Gravitational-Wave Physics and Astronomy (GWPAC) here at CSUF. Although I didn’t know anything about gravitational waves at the time, I quickly became interested in the exciting research that was happening there. I finally declared my major as physics, transferred to CSUF and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. 

During my first semester here, I took an introductory physics class with Dr. Lovelace and he mentioned that he was looking for new research students. After weeks of talking to my friend Haroon (Khan), who worked with Dr. Lovelace at the time on black holes research, I finally mustered up the courage to talk to Dr. Lovelace about joining his research group. 

After my interview with Dr. Lovelace, I was venting to Haroon because I thought I completely bombed it and I was super sad. But Dr. Lovelace took a chance on me, and I have learned so much from him and the other professors at GWPAC. Thank you so much for caring about all of us and being such great mentors to us. 

There were many times when I wasn’t sure that I could do it. Many late nights studying — not going to lie — and many tears too. I also have so many happy memories like my first time on a plane heading to a physics conference with my research group. Or, taking physics classes with my friends, studying together, crying together and going on multiple coffee runs a day. I remember running into Dr. (Michael) Loverude in the hallway with my iPad looking at some problem I was struggling with and he always offered to help, even though it wasn’t for his class. I also spent hours with postdoctoral researcher Dr. Benjamin Schermerhorn and Dr. (Gina) Passante trying to understand quantum mechanics. 

I know I couldn’t have done it without the love and support I have received from my family, friends, mentors, professors, Veronica (Traub) and excellent programs such as Pathways to Independence, McNair Scholars Program, Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP), and as a Sally Casanova Scholar in the CSU Pre-Doctoral Program.

I know this past year and a half has been very challenging for all of us, but we did it! I want to congratulate all the graduates and award winners in the Department of Physics. You are all very deserving and I am confident that you will continue to achieve anything you set your mind to. I am very excited for us, and I know that we are going into our next steps well prepared because the physics faculty at CSUF is phenomenal. Thank you so much for everything! 

Submitted by Teresita Ramirez Aguilar, who is earning a Bachelor of Science in physics

Teresita gave this speech at the May 25 Department of Physics virtual event to celebrate graduating students and scholarship winners. In the fall, she will start the doctoral program in physics at Northwestern University.

Debra Cano Ramos