2017 SISH Scholarships awarded to undergraduates in Astronomy and Physics

The Southern Cross Astronomical Society Scholarship

The Southern Cross Astronomical Society’s mission is to improve the awareness, understanding and enjoyment of astronomy. The society is dedicated to making astronomy available to the public by encouraging research, providing telescope observing and educating through lectures and presentations. The Society is dedicated to providing financial support to students at FIU. Recipients of this award are required to major in Physics and minor in Astronomy. Students must have a cumulative GPA of 3.2 or higher.

This year's awardees are:

Cynthia Nunez

ImageCynthia Nunez is a Dean’s List student completing a Bachelor of Science in Physics with a minor in Astronomy. Cynthia first discovered the joy of problem-solving in high school, especially as it relates to understanding the fundamentals of the world around her through the study of physics. This growing interest has led to her current career aspiration which is to pursue a Ph.D. in Astrophysics.

As a first-generation college student whose family came to the United States when she was very young, this decision was not an easy one to make, given that at the time, it seemed to Cynthia such an unattainable goal to reach. Yet she persevered. She hopes to be a role model who can motivate others like her - minority women in higher education - to become scientists. Cynthia’s main research area of focus is the study of planetary format and galaxy evolution. One of her physics professors remarked that “she was the best student in his observational astronomy class.”

Cynthia is well on her way to becoming a physics educator. She has led workshops for middle-school girls, completed over 55 hours teaching physics to primary and secondary students using the active learning model, and interned with the new Frost Science Museum where she developed a science field trip program for K-12 students. At the Frost, Cynthia enjoyed working with the lead developers of the planetarium and brainstorming astronomy opportunities for the public with the museum’s outreach coordinator.

In addition to her many academic achievements, Cynthia has also acquired new leadership skills since being at FIU. She is the President of the Society for Physics Students where she has planned many student activities. She is the Vice President of the Physics Honors Society, and secretary for Women in Physics and Astronomy at FIU, as well as for the Astronomy Club. She looks forward to advancing astronomical knowledge to solve the difficult questions of the future in the fields of astrophysics and astronomy. We wish Cynthia all the best and congratulate her on receiving the Southern Cross Astronomical Society Scholarship Award.

Stephen Revesz

ImageStephen Revesz has always kept his eyes on the prize. In spite of having to take two semester breaks while at FIU to work full time and save enough money to pay for his classes, Stephen continued working on his research in propulsion technologies, such was his strong intellectual desire to keep learning about astronomy.

Stephen is one of a few observational astronomers at the Stocker AstroScience Center which houses several telescopes. He gathers data for Dr. James Webb’s astronomy research as well, organizes the Messier catalog, and hosts at various events. According to Dr. Webb, “Stephen has become one of our best observers and is qualified to open the 24" telescope on his own.” This spring, Stephen was taking FIU’s Observational Astronomy class and was able to do tons of work in the observatory. His work at the Stocker Center has taught Stephen a great deal, from capturing images and doing data reduction procedures, to more practical aspects, such as how to maintain a facility.

Toward the end of 2015, one of the Quasars Stephen was observing, quasar BL Lac, underwent a luminous outburst. With the skills he had acquired, Stephen was able to study the energy effects of the outburst. He has also taken many images at the observatory and then made them ready to post on the official Stocker AstroScience Center website. Look for the Picture-of-the-Week gold tab on the Stocker website to see Stephen’s pictures as well as many other photos of galaxies, planets, stars, nebulas, and the moon. There’s quite a collection!

Stephen is a Dean’s List student working toward a Bachelor of Science in Physics with a minor in Astronomy. He looks forward to being a regular presenter for the Southern Cross Astronomical Society meetings held here at FIU and hopes one day to work in observatories around the globe. We wish him the best of luck for the future.

The Fred Hoover Memorial Endowment Award

Fred Hoover was known throughout the university as a kind, caring, friendly and outgoing man who was a passionate believer in the importance of education. He enrolled at Florida International University in 1972 and was in the original graduating class as FIU’s first ever physics major. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Physics in 1974, and later earned a Master’s Degree in Health Services Administration from FIU. After he graduated, he remained at FIU as the Laboratory Manager for the Chemistry Department, until his death on Nov. 5, 1998. The Fred Hoover Memorial Endowment Fund was created to honor Mr. Hoover's memory by providing financial support to undergraduate students majoring in Physics at Florida International University.

This year's awardee is:

Francesco Sessa

ImageFrancesco Sessa has amassed an impressive academic record of 3.82 out of a possible 4.0 toward his double major in Physics and Mathematics. He has taken the most demanding physics courses (which include some of the most demanding courses in the whole university) and simultaneously has gained valuable research experience by serving as a volunteer research assistant.

In this day and age, it is no surprise that Francesco discovered his love for physics from exploring and watching YouTube physics videos! He was immediately enthralled by discussions of String Theory, worm holes and other subjects, and found these ideas fascinating to think about as he went through his day, so much so that he soon realized he wanted to pursue the study of physics.

But there was one problem. Growing up as a Latino immigrant in a low-income household with a history of abuse did not lend itself well to the possibility of higher education. He thought it was unlikely in fact that he would ever be able to pursue his dream, especially as looking out for his mother and trying to put food on the table were two bigger issues that were front and center in his mind. Fortunately, the timing was right for Francesco, and the policy known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival) opened many doors for him to attend college. Despite all of his hardships, Francesco surmounted them and aimed toward a brighter future through physics.

Still, it wasn't easy. Francesco realized, as he put it himself, "physics was not for the faint of heart." There were few who had faith in his ability to accomplish this idea of a career in physics. He and his mother also had to leave their dangerous environment. But thanks to some financial support, he was able to begin his college education. At first, he worked two jobs while earning his Associates degree with high honors at Broward College. From there, he enrolled into the BS in Physics program at FIU where he found many supportive peers and professors that helped him adjust to his new challenges and difficulties. The rest is history as he became a Dean’s List student for every semester since being at FIU.

Francesco is an active participant in physics’ student affairs, participating in outreach activities and presenting talks on his favorite subject. He has served as Treasurer for the FIU Society of Physics Students and for Sigma Pi Sigma, the Physics Honors Society. He also co-founded and became Treasurer for Women in Physics and Astronomy. Francesco has worked in the department as a Learning Assistant for Introductory Physics.

The faculty write well of his efforts, especially as he has been able to accomplish his impressive record even under strong hardship. It is for all these reasons that Francesco was chosen for the Fred Hoover Memorial Endowment award. Fascinated by the life of researchers, he hopes to continue learning and making new advances in his field of study. Today, Francesco's main research interest has focused on producing and examining carbon nanotubes to find the optical conditions for carbon nanotubes on a steel substrate. He plans to continue with his education by pursuing a Ph.D. in Physics.