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1000 E University Ave

Dept. 3226, Bureau of Mines

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: (307) 766-2379

Fax: (307) 766-6729

Email: uwmktg@uwyo.edu

A Love of Science

Rachel Smullen used her time at UW to conduct undergraduate research, prepare for graduate school and teach children a passion for science.

By Micaela Myers

When Rachel Smullen of Gold Hill, Ore., graduated from high school, she was dead set on earning an astronomy degree. “I applied all over the country, and the University of Wyoming ended up being the best combination of price and prestige for what I was looking for,” she says.

In May 2014, Smullen achieved her goal and then some, graduating with dual degrees in physics and astronomy, as well as minors in computer science, interdisciplinary computational science and math.

UW Alumni Rachel Smullen at the Grand Canyon Rachel Smullen at NASA Rachel Smullen at NASA

Smullen now is enrolled at the University of Arizona, pursuing her doctorate in astronomy. “Everything I’ve done at UW has uniquely prepared me to be very successful in graduate school,” she says. “I got into some of the top graduate schools in the country. I think UW has really prepared me to compete against big-name schools.”

Her professors at UW played a huge role in her success. “I went up to the telescope my first week of my first year, and I got involved in research the second month. A lot of that was the professors—they were encouraging me to get involved,” Smullen says. “There are a lot of caring, dedicated professors who are willing to help people who want to succeed.”


"One of my favorite things about UW is that I always think of it as a private education for a public school price. I’ve had a really positive experience throughout my four years here. It’s been wonderful.”


To incoming students, Smullen says, “It’s a really great school, and it’s a really friendly campus. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. I think everyone needs to know that you can get involved in organizations and research. There are a lot of organizations on campus. Get to know your professors, because they will get you where you want to go.”

During her time at UW, Smullen took every opportunity to both learn and share her knowledge.

“I was president of the Society of Physics Students for a couple of years and stayed involved,” she says. “I’ve done a lot of outreach, I worked at the planetarium, and I worked as an observer at the Wyoming Infrared Observatory.”

In addition to her research, Smullen discovered a passion for teaching science. “I’ve come to the conclusion that a knowledge and love of science is essential for everyone,” she says.

UW Alumni Rachel SmullenOpportunities at UW allowed Smullen to help people gain that knowledge. “At the planetarium, we gave shows to groups from preschool age to adults. I always taught them about my favorite things about astronomy. Then we showed them constellations and answered questions about astronomy—and hopefully showed them that science is cool, and physics isn’t something to be afraid of,” she says. “On campus, we did star parties and lab tours. Then we also took outreach to the schools. I also worked with the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp, which we call Astrocamp. We brought in middle school students for 10 days and put them through an intensive science workout where we cover biology, astronomy, chemistry and physics—pretty much a little bit of everything. Our underlying theme was a journey to the stars. We talked about how we find other planets and what conditions might support life, how we might get there and all sorts of fun things like that.

“I think one of my favorite things that ever happened was when I was working at Astrocamp,” she adds. “One of the kids came in hating science. By the end, he was like, ‘Science is cool!’ ”

Smullen’s academic and extracurricular success earned her a spot as a 2014 Rosemarie Martha Spitaleri Award finalist—an award that recognizes the top graduating females at UW.

Whether Smullen’s doctorate ultimately leads her to a career in industry or academics, her time at UW prepared her for success and cultivated her love of teaching others to embrace science. “I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities to act like a real astronomer,” she says. “One of my favorite things about UW is that I always think of it as a private education for a public school price. I’ve had a really positive experience throughout my four years here. It’s been wonderful.”

One of the 10 Cowboy Ethics adopted by UW is “Talk less and say more.” Rachel Smullen exemplifies this principle, sharing her knowledge of science to help others gain a new perspective.


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University Public Relations

1000 E University Ave

Dept. 3226, Bureau of Mines

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: (307) 766-2379

Fax: (307) 766-6729

Email: uwmktg@uwyo.edu

1000 E. University Ave. Laramie, WY 82071
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