Growing Physics Program Offers an Expanding Universe of Possibilities

December 13, 2017

Ashley Horan ’15

Professor Alessandro Massarotti is reaching for the stars as he oversees major growth in the Department of Physics & Astronomy but to explain the program’s broad appeal he turns to a small earthly object.

“The majors offered by the Physics Department are the ‘Swiss Army knives’ of STEM disciplines,” says the department chair, noting that they offer paths to a variety of potential careers, in fields that include traditional and alternative energy, industry and education. “Students start with a subject they really like but they may end up working in many different fields when they graduate. Everyone wants you because you can do many things — quantitative fields, mathematics, computer science and even finance.”

Michael Maggio ’17 is a good example. With a physics major and math minor, Michael landed a job as a software engineer working on Raytheon’s X-Band Radar (XBR). He credits his success to his professors. “If you went to a professor with something you wanted, professors were more than willing to help and push you farther,” he says. For example, Professor David Simon recognized Michael’s interest in lasers and included him in two summers of research in this area.

For physics major Ashley (Horan) Palumbo ’15, the decision to attend Stonehill College led to an internship at NASA and admission to Brown University’s coveted planetary geosciences doctorate program. But the realization that she had picked the right college sunk in long before those doors opened.

“Stonehill professors immediately took an interest in me — as a person and as a scientist,” says Ashley, who singled out Massarotti in particular for his mentorship. “Professor Massarotti personally engaged me in physics research that allowed me to become sure of which direction to take later in the program,” Ashley says.  

 That close collaboration, combined with a number of competitive internships, helped launch Ashley on the next stage of her journey as a physicist — pursuing a master’s and Ph.D. at Brown University as a NASA Earth and Space Science Fellow, studying the geological history of Mars.

Massarotti says he believes that developments such as two new majors ­— astronomy and earth and planetary science — will allow the department to build on such successes.

Academic Partnerships Build on On-campus Learning

Stonehill’s partnerships with prestigious universities are another draw. Students can earn a double bachelor’s through the 3+2 program with Notre Dame: a B.A. in physics and in an engineering discipline. Graduates of this program have taken varied career paths — ranging from Chrysler engineer to CEO of a startup. 

Students in the Physics Department are encouraged to go to the University of Rochester’s optics program for summer internships and physics and chemistry students with a solid GPA also gain automatic acceptance to the master’s in optics program at the university. Greg Costello ’18 is one of those who took advantage of that opportunity and hopes to pursue his master’s there. “I thank my lucky stars that I went to Stonehill,” says Greg. “I wouldn’t have been presented all these learning avenues and this integration into the physics community.” He is especially grateful to Professor Michael Horne, who arranged for him a personal trip to the University of Vienna for quantum optics research. “He opened my eyes to what I wanted to do and helped me find my niche.”

Deep Roots in the Field of Research

Massarotti echoes the students’ sentiments regarding exceptional faculty. “In our college, all of us are affiliated and doing research with big universities in the area. This gives students opportunities to do more and make important outside connections, which are valuable after graduation,” he states. “We love what we do and are dedicated to teaching.” 

His next goal is to make sure students who are interested in a physics degree know the value of studying physics at Stonehill. It’s a gem at the College that is only just starting to get the attention it deserves.

“Our biggest challenge is putting the program on the map with applying students,” Massarotti says. He feels that with a collaborative effort, incoming students will come to see the versatility, value and the many possibilities that come with a physics degree from Stonehill.