Leaving the Desert

Leaving the Desert: Parting from the familiarity of home

Photo Credit: Jennifer Whitton Here is my friend Elena and me jumping for joy amidst the beautiful Tucson scenery.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Whitton
Here is my friend Elena and me jumping for joy amidst the beautiful Tucson scenery.

I was born and raised in west Philadelphia. I spent most of my days on the playground chilling, relaxing, and playing basketball with my friends after school. Oh wait, that was the Fresh Prince of Bel air. I actually have lived in Tucson my entire life. I grew up in the same room in the same house for 18 years. When I began my education at the University of Arizona I moved into a dorm, which I lived in for three years. My parents have always been just a phone call away. Moreover, despite the many enriching experiences that shaped me as a person, I maintained a cushion of dependence and familiarity. The farthest away from my family I had been – and for the longest period of time – was a week I spent at a Catholic leadership conference at the University of Notre Dame. Even then, youth leaders and close friends guided me. I did not even need a map for the duration of my stay because I could follow a group wherever I needed to go.

Long story short, participating in the University of Rochester Research Experience for Undergraduates Summer 2014 Physics Program (REU) has been the most independent endeavor of my entire life.

I snapped this selfie shortly after my plane landed in Rochester, NY

I snapped this selfie shortly after my plane landed in Rochester, NY

The REU program I’m in takes place on the University of Rochester campus in Rochester, NY. My specific lab is part of the Institute of Optics under the direction of Dr. Robert Boyd. From May 27th to August 1st I will be living in a U of R dorm. I am living with a stranger, I don’t know any of the streets or buildings, and I had to assimilate into a group of friends as an outsider. I am working in a ‘real’ lab for the first time in my life.

I believe this experience will help shape me as a person.

In Dr. Boyd’s lab there are several graduate students and one other REU student, Rachel. Rachel is sweet, beautiful, and brilliant. I am blessed to have been paired with her. The three main grad students who work with Rachel and me are Joe, Mohammad, and Andreas.

For my first two days actively working in the lab Andreas was mentoring me. Right away, after explaining the issues existing with the experiment, he asked my opinion on how to fix the problems. For me this was a significant moment. It served as a catalyst of development and independence that I hope will carry on throughout my time at U of R. I had never felt responsibility in that way before. Here we were with an experiment that may not yield a desired result and questions that did not have set solutions. Obviously Andreas is more qualified than me to fix experiments, and yet he turned to me at the first opportunity.

Well played, Andreas.

I respect him for giving me that chance to stretch my mind and put my mental gears in motion. Even though I responded with hesitance and self-doubt – or maybe because of it – Andreas led me through a logical thought process for problem solving.

This small exchange has me excited to see what I am capable of and what the rest of the REU program has waiting for me. It is safe to say I am no longer in that familiar desert I call home.


Stephanie is currently an undergraduate at the University of Arizona. She is studying optical science and engineering. For the summer of 2014 she is participating in a Research Experience for Undergraduates program at the University of Rochester. Her favorite hobbies are singing and creating YouTube videos.

2 responses to “Leaving the Desert

  1. Well written and done, you make us proud. ROSEMARY and AL. Let us know how you found the D’Orazio’s of Rochester if you have time and are so inclined

    • I love you, Grandma and Grandpa! 🙂 I will be sure to write about meeting them. My next two posts are going to be about the lab, but the one after that will be about visiting my Rochester cousins. ^_^

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