From the physics lab to the developing world, endowed funds make the difference

From plasma physics research to community development work in Nicaragua, endowed funds provide extraordinary experiences for Gettysburg College students.

“Challenges across the developing world are very similar,” said Chido Munangagwa ’11. “The goal of my education is to produce work that contributes to the improvement of my country.”

Between her freshman and sophomore years, Munangagwa, an economics major, conducted a field study on the long-term social consequences of hyperinflation in Zimbabwe, her homeland. She surveyed residents, academic experts, and government officials, then worked with Gettysburg economics Prof. Charles Weise to compare her findings to similar research from Latin America.

Six months later, thanks to endowed funds for student service-learning, Munangagwa joined a group from the College that visited Nicaragua with Project Gettysburg León (PGL). Staying with host families, the group learned about the nation's culture, studied social and economic challenges facing Nicaragua, and worked on community development projects.

“I was amazed by the numerous similarities that I saw between Nicaragua and my own country,” Munangagwa said. “I realized that PGL was successfully equipping people with sustainable ideas so that they could, in turn, help themselves. One of the most important lessons I learned is that the internal challenges that developing countries face often reflect a leadership crisis, and the solutions rest in the people themselves.”

Munangagwa described her service-learning experience in a video.

The Dee Hess ’82 Memorial Fund for Service-Learning was established in memory of alumna and Peace Corps volunteer Diana L. “Dee” Hess to allow students to participate in international service-learning projects through the Center for Public Service.

Alex Steel ’09 came to Gettysburg College knowing he wanted to major in physics and he never wavered. “I chose the right major from the get-go,” he said. As he approached his senior year—and his required senior thesis—Alex knew graduate school was in his future. He turned to Prof. Tim Good and the College’s plasma physics lab. Together, they designed a project that would engage the kinds of questions and experimental practices found in advanced research.

“My work is a stepping stone to better understanding of more complicated dynamics in larger systems,” Steel said. “Any understanding can be applied to other fields.” His thesis correlates the boom-bust, growth-crash cycles created in the lab to systems present in a heartbeat or in gypsy moth population cycles. What he modeled in the lab at the atomic level may aid in understanding—and new discoveries—in other systems.

Endowed funds for student research enabled Steel to dedicate a full summer to the project. His thesis was the subject of a campus colloquium and colleagues in the greater scientific community have been interested in the procedures and findings.

Steel, of Morgantown, W. Va., graduated feeling ready for his next steps: “This experience has been invaluable in helping me prepare for graduate school at the University of California at Davis and the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory.”

The Carl Hoshin Peterson Summer Student Research Grant in Physics and the Leslie R. Schweizer ’45 and Thomas C. Schweizer ’73 Summer Research Grant in Physics are two funds created to honor the memory of the physicists for which they are named. These funds provide students the means to conduct primary research in physics.

For more information about endowed funds or to establish a new fund at Gettysburg College, please contact Director of Donor Relations and Special Events Maida Connor at mconnor@gettysburg.edu or 717-337-8057.

Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences. With a student body of approximately 2,500, it is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. The college was founded in 1832.

Contact: Jim Hale, online content editor

Posted: Wed, 5 Aug 2009

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