Student Selected for MIT Summer Institute

Sierra Garza
Riverside City College student, Sierra Garza, has been selected to participate in the CAMPARE program in Cosmology and Radio Astronomy research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology this summer. 

The CAMPARE program allows students from California state universities and California community colleges to participate in undergraduate research projects for eight to ten weeks in the summer with scientists at one of 14 world-class research institutions on projects spanning the fields of astronomy, planetary and space science, astrobiology, and astronomy education and public outreach. Students are paid a stipend, and travel and housing expenses are included. The mission of CAMPARE is to advance undergraduate astronomy research and education among traditionally underrepresented groups (including women and Hispanic students) in order to promote their participation and advancement and increase their numbers in Ph.D. programs in astronomy and related fields. 

To be eligible for any of the CAMPARE program areas of study, students must be at least 18 years of age by the beginning of the program. They must be enrolled in one of the CAMPARE participating institutions at the time of their application, such as RCC. Community college students in the process of transferring to a four-year institution are eligible to apply. Applicants must have also completed a minimum of one year of college-level physics by the start of the program. 

“Sierra is the perfect candidate for the program,” Louise Daniels, visiting professor, Physics/Astronomy, said. “She has an inherently scientific mind and is at an advantage because, not only has she taken the mathematics and physics required for the program, but she has also taken astronomy and engineering, which should be substantially helpful with her research.

“This is a huge opportunity for Sierra, and she definitely deserves it. I am especially proud of her because she is my first student to be accepted for this program, and she is already an inspiration to her classmates.” 

For Garza, who is majoring in Physics/Astrophysics, she is most looking forward to learning how to conduct high-quality research. She has already participated in an intense NASA internship for community college students (the National Community College Aerospace Scholars program, NCCAS). 

“I am looking forward to learning how to properly conduct high-quality research that I will most definitely be using throughout my career in physics/astronomy,” Garza said. “I find it very exciting to be able to participate in a program that involves space, a field of study that I will pursue further later in my life.” 

The CAMPARE-HERA Astronomy Minority Partnership program is a new opportunity within the CAMPARE program. Seven universities are partnering on the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA) project, which is a state-of-the-art radio telescope being built in South Africa. The radio telescope is dedicated to observing large scale structures during and prior to the epoch of reionization. HERA is a second generation instrument which combines efforts and lessons learned from the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) and the Donald C. Backer Precision Array for Probing the Epoch of Reionization (PAPER). The array is a large grid of 42-foot diameter non-tracking dishes packed into a hexagonal grid of 900 feet. This substantial collecting area increase gives an order of magnitude more sensitivity than first- generation instruments, is capable of robust statistical characterization, and has the sensitivity to enable first images of large scale HI structure. 

A graduate of La Sierra High School in Riverside, Garza, 21, says it was the opportunity to learn outside the classroom which drew her to deciding to submit an application for the CAMPARE program. 

“I find it very exciting I'll be able to use my knowledge and skills in math, physics, engineering, and astronomy that I have acquired through my academic career in a very practical hands-on way that is outside the classroom,” she said. “I thought that I should take advantage of this opportunity while I have the chance. I figured this summer would be a great time to have an internship and really learn more about radio astronomy from people who are currently working on these projects.” 

Garza, who hopes to transfer to Cal Poly Pomona in the fall, credited College faculty members Daniels; Mark Lehr, professor, Engineering; and Scott Blair, associate professor, Astronomy, for their assistance in landing the coveted spot in the program.

“When I was applying I figured, if I was accepted, I would be going to a location in California, but when I was informed of being selected to attend MIT it was an incredible feeling,” she said. “Knowing that I'll be spending about two months on the east coast is going to be a whole new experience for me, on top of participating in the CAMPARE program.”