Bringing Physics to the Public
During her first two years at Evergreen, Guadalupe Camacho immersed herself in math and science programs. She even attended conferences held by the American Physical Society, one of the world's largest professional organizations for physicists.
It almost didn't turn out that way.
Camacho "was bitten by the science fiction bug at the age of 12," when she read Robert J. Sawyer's Factoring Humanity, a thriller involving a woman scientist, artificial intelligence, quantum physics, mathematical equations and parallel universes. "Through that book," she says, "I was introduced to the wondrous realm of possibility. Shortly after finishing it, I picked the physics and astronomy shelves at the library dry."
From then on, she eagerly looked forward to taking her "first real physics class" in her sophomore year in high school. Then she got there. "I was completely thrown off," she says. "The bulk of the class was spent analyzing a sketch of the same ball on various degrees of inclined planes…By the time the end of the year rolled around, I had already come to the conclusion that I just wasn't cut out for the scientific career path."
While still in high school, a fascination with the environment led her to join the Youth Conservation Corps at San Diego's Cabrillo National Monument. Her mentor there recommended her for a full scholarship to attend the Southern California Minority Youth Environmental Training Institute, which she won. Once again, science called out to her.
At the institute, she learned about the science behind some of the most pressing environmental issues, which reignited her interest in the discipline. "I realized then that I would face a lifetime of regret should I choose to turn away from my dream of studying physics," she says.
Camacho entered Evergreen as a recipient of the First Peoples' Scholarship, supported by gifts to the Evergreen Annual Fund, which is granted to new students who have distinguished themselves in a wide range of areas, such as academics and community service. She was also awarded National Science Foundation (NSF) scholarships in both her first and second years at the college.
Studying science at Evergreen has turned out to be gratifying for Camacho. "The physics department here has been really great— and very different from what I experienced in high school," she says. "I enjoy the fact that we explore the fundamentals of the subject in conjunction with the more advanced applications, as well as the fact that I've been able to attend conferences where the experts in the field are more than willing to sit down with undergraduates and members of the public and really talk to them about the significance of what they're working on."
Her scholarships were instrumental in giving her these opportunities, "The First Peoples' Scholarship was a lifesaver in my freshman year," says Camacho. "It had been two years since I'd been in school and I was unsure how I was going to adjust to the academics while having to find extra ways to make ends meet. The same goes for the NSF, which has provided a great support system as far as being a science student at a liberal arts college. It's paved the way for future research opportunities with the faculty and connected me with a number of mentors and advisors."
With the support she has received, Camacho says she's on her way to attaining her goal "of educating the public about the wonderful world of mathematics and science." She's not sure yet whether she'll become a "mathematics teacher, an editor of Science News, a science fiction writer or a pure researcher." One thing is certain though: All are within the realm of possibility.