Scholar Off to Cambridge

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Scholar Off to Cambridge

Sigma Pi Sigma member plans a career in astrophysics


Russell Nay, Correspondent at the University of South Florida’s "The Oracle"

Michael Calzadilla. Photo courtesy of Lauren Chambers/USF.

Sigma Pi Sigma member Michael Calzadilla is the first student from a Florida university to win the Gates Cambridge International Scholarship and one of 40 annually selected in the United States. The Gates Cambridge International Scholarship, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, funds graduate work and study abroad programs at the University of Cambridge in England.

Calzadilla, a senior double majoring in math and physics with a minor in astronomy at the University of South Florida, holds a 3.98 GPA and is a part of the USF Honors College. He began at Cambridge in October, where he plans to obtain his one-year master’s degree before returning to the United States to earn a doctorate in astrophysics.

“Many great minds have walked along the steps of Cambridge, and I’m excited to walk where they have walked,” he said.

The first in his family to attend college, Calzadilla was not always bound for a successful future in higher education—even attending college was an uncertainty.

“Out of high school, there was a certain pressure to help out at home and get a job, so coming to college wasn’t a popular idea,” he said. “I had to find a lot of mentors, because this is uncharted territory being the first one in my family to go to college.”

Calzadilla completed research in astrophysics and astronomy at MIT and Harvard, received funding from USF to build an astronomy telescope on campus, and revived student involvement in Sigma Pi Sigma, one of USF’s major physics clubs.

“The purpose of the telescope is to cap off my astronomy education to show what I’ve learned,” Calzadilla said. “Also, so other students in the future don’t have to go off campus to do astronomy research.”

Though he still enjoys a number of hobbies such as playing violin, boxing, running, and traveling, Calzadilla said his alternate dream job would be to become a concert violinist. His interest in math, physics, and astronomy began when he was young and in awe of space documentaries.

In the future, he said, he would like to become a professor in astrophysics and get involved with public outreach programs to promote scientific learning.

“I would like to be able to do what public figures like Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson did for me when I was younger,” he said. “Too many Einsteins lived a life doing things in which their best abilities weren’t put to use.”

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