How far would you go to pursue your dream? Junellie Gonzalez Quiles, a sophomore astronomy and physics double major at the University of Maryland, left her home in Puerto Rico at age 17 to travel over 1,500 miles across an ocean and halfway up the East Coast to pursue her dream of becoming an astrophysicist.
Her dream started at a young age. “I was always interested in science since I was very little,” said Gonzalez. “I was always asking questions, especially ‘Why?’. I didn’t want to just accept things as they were.”
In high school, Gonzalez interned at the Arecibo Observatory every Saturday designing space settlements. When Gonzalez learned that universities in Puerto Rico did not offer an astronomy degree, she knew she’d need to look for programs elsewhere.
While participating in a program at Johns Hopkins University the summer before her senior year of high school, Gonzalez learned about the University of Maryland. Maryland offered a high-ranking astronomy program and close proximity to the nation’s capital and NASA. But what really sold Gonzalez on UMD were its faculty members and students.
“I was contacted by the chair of astronomy, Stuart Vogel, and by students offering to give me a tour of UMD, tell me about the program and introduce me to faculty members,” said Gonzalez. “During my visit, I immediately felt very welcomed, and I felt like I was already part of the university; other universities I applied to never did that.”
Gonzalez was also accepted into the University Honors Program, which allowed for better discussions in her seminars and more one-on-one interactions with professors.
Gonzalez’s close relationship with faculty members in the Department of Astronomy and honors program allowed her to expand her network in the scientific community. Thanks to guidance and recommendations from faculty members, Gonzalez interned this past summer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
Over the course of 10 weeks, she visited Congress to hear policymakers’ perspectives on research, and she received mentoring on graduate school and problems minority students may face. She also conducted research, taking theories she learned in class and applying them to real-life scenarios.
Her expanding network provided her the opportunity this semester to conduct research on exoplanets. Her hope is to better understand the environment and the conditions in which exoplanets can form.
In addition to her research interests, music, poetry and art also play a major role in Gonzalez’s life. She plays the trombone in the Mighty Sound of Maryland Marching Band. She loves walking into Byrd Stadium when it’s full of people at a football game and motivating them to cheer for the Terps.
“I love being involved in arts, they make me explore another part of myself and get new perspectives,” she said. “That’s important in physics, too, because you have to try different methods to get an answer.”
As Gonzalez continues to pursue her dream of becoming an astrophysicist, she offers one piece of advice to her fellow students.
“Don’t be afraid to go see professors or try something new,” said Gonzalez. “If you get help or meet new people you’ll be guaranteed a great experience.”
Media Relations Contact: Abby Robinson, 301-405-5845, firstname.lastname@example.org
Writer: Rachael Romano
About the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences
The College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland educates more than 7,000 future scientific leaders in its undergraduate and graduate programs each year. The college's 10 departments and more than a dozen interdisciplinary research centers foster scientific discovery with annual sponsored research funding exceeding $150 million.