Alumni Spotlight

Kalina Gospodinova ’04

Majors: Physics and Astronomy, Mathematics

Activities: International Club, Physics and Astronomy Club, Mathematics Club

What first attracted you to Whittier College? I am originally from Bulgaria, and I lived there until I finished high school. During my senior year, I was choosing what schools to apply to in the US, and since I did not have the means to visit them, I needed help and advice. My brother, Georgi Gospodinov, who was a junior at Whittier at the time, helped me with the process. He highly recommended Whittier to me, not because he was a student there or because I would be close to family, but because he really loved the school and the community. I later came to experience for myself the devotion of its professors, its student diversity, and the overall support of its community. Whittier also made it all possible by offering me a full scholarship, and I will always be thankful for their investment.

Why did you choose to study your majors? I came from a mathematics high school in Bulgaria, and I liked science. On the other hand, I was also always passionate about art.  While I was growing up, following that passion was discouraged by my parents, simply because it was tough to become a successful artist in Bulgaria. When I arrived at Whittier I considered both, and I even took few art classes. However, the math and physics departments were especially inviting to me. I loved every moment of my undergraduate experience. My professors were the most devoted and inspiring teachers I have ever had, and I still keep in touch with most of them. They challenged all of us, and they created opportunities to become part of the scientific community and to participate in research projects that helped build expertise for our future careers.

Describe your experience at Whittier College. What is your favorite memory? My favorite memories at Whittier are from the "Star Party" events organized by the Physics and Astronomy Club every semester. They involved going out to the desert and camping overnight with our physics and astronomy professors, and lots of equipment (telescopes) and food. We hiked, laughed, barbequed, told stories, and learned a lot all at once. I still remember the first time I saw Jupiter and four of its moons through a telescope - simply stunning. I got to organize a few of those events myself when I was a president of the club.

What was your first job after Whittier? What are you currently up to? How has your Whittier education benefited you professionally? When I graduated from Whittier in 2004, I moved to Boston because I wanted to diversify my experience in the US. I was planning to eventually apply to graduate school in mathematics, but for the time being I was looking for a science-related job. It took a while to find a position I was interested in, and in the meantime I worked several non-science related jobs as a teacher and a waitress. Finally, I accepted a position as a research technician at the Tufts University Planetary Chemical Analysis Laboratory, which I was qualified for based on my research experience in Whittier. The position allowed me to become involved with NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander mission. In particular, I worked on the Wet Chemistry Laboratory (WCL) instrument, one of the payloads aboard the lander, both in its development and throughout surface operations on Mars. I worked with the WCL science team to develop and plan experiments, the goal of which was to successfully analyze the Martian soil. I was also responsible for developing and testing the programming sequences that controlled WCL’s operations and executed the experiments. It was the most incredible and fulfilling experience of my career!

My participation in the NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander mission changed my interests a bit, and after the mission ended, I applied to the MIT/WHOI Joint Program, which is a joint oceanographic graduate program between MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Last May, I graduated with my MS degree in Mechanical Engineering, and I currently hold a research position at the National Ocean Sciences Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Facility (NOSAMS) at WHOI, which performs radiocarbon dating.

What advice would you give to future Physics student when they graduate? Never lose sight of what you are passionate about, keep an eye out for opportunities, and trust your instincts.

Finish this sentence: I am a ‘Poet for Life’ because… the strong values and importance of community that are taught at Whittier College are always with me.

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