New College Grad Student Earns Prestigious International Quad Fellowship

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- by Gayle Guynup

The Quad Fellowship supports Master’s and Ph.D. students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) – 25 from each of the four countries. This first-of-its-kind scholarship program is designed to build ties among the next generation of scientists and technologists.

Joshua earned his bachelor’s degree in statistics and applied mathematics, and is now enrolled in New College’s Applied Data Science graduate program, with his main research interest in astrostatistics, a crossover between astrophysics and statistics.

Each Quad Fellow will receive a one-time award of $50,000, plus $25,000 in additional support. This can be used for tuition, research, fees, books, room and board, and other related academic expenses. In addition, all 100 of those chosen will continue their studies in the United States and will participate in an international STEM residential program in Melbourne, Australia in the summer of 2023.

“Each of these students has demonstrated their commitment to advancing innovation and collaboration among our four great democracies and an enthusiasm for building a better tomorrow for the Indo-Pacific and the world,” said National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, in announcing the awards.

Locally Grown

Joshua is a native Floridian, was born and raised in the Sarasota-Bradenton area, and attended Bradenton Christian School. “I come from a lower-middle-class family that really sacrificed a lot so I could have a private education. I am also a first-generation college student, and worked to put myself through school.  I selected New College, where I could get a high-quality, affordable education and still be close to home,” he said.

“As a teenager, I became interested in very existential questions and popular science. I remember watching Cosmos with astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson in ninth or tenth grade, and that sparked my interest in astronomy. Never, though, did I envision that I would one day be doing research in astronomy and statistics until I came to New College,” Joshua said.

Before the Quad Fellowship: New College Life

“My first year at New College I stumbled around, trying to figure out what I wanted to study. I started off with an interest in economics, but then I started taking some statistics and data science courses, and everything started to change,” he said.

In the fall of 2020, Josh was selected as a Barancik Scholar, receiving a scholarship funded by a grant from the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation that provides support for students from the Sarasota-Manatee area with financial need. Not only did it help with his tuition, but also expenses related to his conference presentations.

Joshua’s statistics professor, undergraduate advisor, thesis supervisor and now interim director of the Applied Data Science graduate program is Dr. Bernhard Klingenberg.

“I got to know Josh about 3 ½ years ago, when he took his first course with me,” said Klingenberg, who recommended Joshua for a summer internship at the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “It was an amazing opportunity,” Klingenberg said. “When he first studied with me, he had not even thought about becoming a statistician. He was more interested in economics and was thinking of going into big finance – perhaps leading to a job on Wall Street. He came back from the Harvard internship infected with the research bug, and using statistics as the basis for his research.”

From Harvard to NASA

“Joshua has tremendous initiative and drive, and has always found exciting opportunities for himself,” Dr. Klingenberg said.

“In my second year, I began looking for an internship,” Joshua said. “Dr. Klingenberg told me about REUs (research experiences for undergraduates). I looked around and I came across a program at the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. I reached out to the program coordinator, Dr. Katharine Reeves, who encouraged me to apply. A few months later, I opened up my email and saw I had been accepted. That was the moment that changed my life,” he said. 

This was during the first year of Covid, so it was offered online. Joshua was assigned several mentors and was put on a statistically heavy project – on solar flares. “It was a really great experience. I learned about research, and how academia works,” Joshua said. “Since that summer I have continued working with that same research team for about 2 ½ years now. The project has grown and changed considerably from when we first started. We are now working on papers that will be submitted to journals, and I continue to work at the Center for Astrophysics part-time.”

This past summer Joshua attended a conference at the Center for Astrophysics. He was able to visit the Harvard campus and the astrophysics center and got to meet the mentors and colleagues that he had been working with virtually. “This experience is what got me into the field of astrostatistics, and is also where the idea for my thesis was born,” Joshua said.

His thesis, titled “Statistical Modeling of Solar Flare Occurrences and Their Energy Distributions” turned into a year-long project analyzing solar flares, then utilizing statistical models to better understand the data that had been collected. 

The summer of 2021 Joshua applied for more internships. NASA hired Joshua as a STEM intern with the Hubble Communications Team. “It was great. They had social media data from all of the Hubble outreach accounts – Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and others – for the past several years, and I analyzed that data,” Joshua explained. “I worked with my mentor, Jim Jeletic, who is the deputy project manager for the Hubble Space Telescope mission. He was a wonderful mentor and it was an invaluable internship,” Joshua said.

Working with the Stars 

One of Joshua’s favorite sayings is, “You don’t know if you don’t ask.” Joshua told Jim he was really interested in STEM research and asked if he knew anyone at NASA Goddard who might have a project on which he could work. “He connected me with Dr. Gioia Rau and Dr. Kenneth Carpenter.

“I ended up working on a project studying the chromospheres of cool, evolved stars.” I have been using Hubble Space Telescope data looking at the outer atmospheres of these stars. I worked part-time at the Exoplanets and StellarAstrophysics Lab at NASA Goddard from the fall of 2021 through spring of 2022. In the summer of 2022, I continued that work on stellar atmospheres with NASA Goddard, and was able to visit the center and work there for a bit. I am currently finishing up my research with Dr. Rau and Dr. Carpenter, and writing a paper on my research.

“I learned so much about STEM research, public outreach and scientific communication – and the impact that science and research can have on society,” Joshua said of his internships. 

The Quad Fellowship

Meanwhile, late last spring, a new fellowship crossed the desk of Duane Smith, who works in the New College office of Career Engagement and Opportunity.

“I knew Josh from working with him before on other applications,” Smith said. “So, when I learned about the Quad Fellowship, and what the Quad Fellowship was looking for – individuals who will use science to have a positive impact on society – I sent him the information, thinking that it would be a good fit.”

Smith adds that the monetary award is there to support their education, but the fellowship is designed to facilitate the interaction between those who will be the next generation of leaders in their particular disciplines. “It will also give these students an international perspective that will be crucial to their success in 21st century technology. Building these connections will impact the entirety of Joshua’s career,” Smith said.

“Joshua is certainly well-deserving of this fellowship,” Smith added. “When we get up into this airy region of highly prestigious awards, it is intensely competitive. I am just really happy for him.”

“This is the type of fellowship that can change my life and career,” Joshua said. “As a first-generation student from a relatively small town, who has never been out of the country before, the Quad Fellowship presents a tremendous opportunity. Being exposed to these different cultures will change my life on a personal level. And professionally, it will undoubtedly change the trajectory of my life, just like the REU did.

“I may not yet know all the ways in which things will change. I’ll know that as I move through the program. But I do know it is going to change my life.”

Joshua will be graduating with his master’s degree at the end of the summer of 2023. He has applied to Ph.D. programs around the country, including Carnegie Mellon and Harvard.

Asked about Joshua’s future, Klingenberg said, “I think Joshua will land in a very good Ph.D. program in statistics. I certainly see him becoming an active contributor to our sciences, answering important questions in whatever area he chooses. He may stay in astrophysics, or that may change as he continues his education.”

Klingenberg added that Joshua is a phenomenal networker. “It is amazing how he brings people together. For example, Joshua co-founded an astronomy club here at the college, and organized star-watching events on our bayfront. He is very gifted at networking, and certainly the connections he has made at Harvard and at NASA and through the Quad Fellowship will open doors for him in the future.”

Gayle Guynup is a contributor to the New College News.