As a student at UConn, Mallory Guy spent much of her college career as a minority, since there aren’t an abundance of female physics and electrical engineering double majors.
And in the physics department, Guy also noticed that there were few women faculty. Despite her close relationship with her undergraduate research advisor, professor Cynthia Peterson, Guy felt that the department could use some more female role models.
“I think it’s important that when you’re outnumbered in a field, you at least get a chance to interact with people like you who have succeeded,” she says. “You notice when you’re different, and seeing examples of success can help a lot.”
Since the start of her senior year, the Danbury native has been a founding member – and the only undergraduate member – of the department’s new Diversity Committee, which is working to improve the environment for women in the field of physics at UConn.
The committee presented a Distinguished Women Physicist Lecture Series this semester, and Guy had the idea to include a lunch with undergraduates as an opportunity for new role models. As one of the presidents of the Physics Club, she also proposed the idea to have Physics Club segment of the Distinguished Women Lecture Series, including professional lectures, climate-for-women politics and other discussions.
Susanne Yelin, associate professor of physics and a member of the Diversity Committee, says that Guy constantly introduced new ideas like these to improve the climate in the department for minorities and for undergraduates.
“She is the physics major most engaged in leaving the department a better place than she found it,” says Yelin.
Her outreach efforts didn’t prevent Guy from succeeding in the classroom and the research lab as well. Her senior research thesis with Peterson was focused on thermoluminescent dating, a technique that uses the amount of light emitted from samples of opal and silica, both types of quartz, to measure their age.
Guy has been accepted to several graduate schools and will go on to complete a PhD in condensed matter physics. She says that one of her motivations for going to graduate school was noticing that some of her professors seemed to be “the happiest people in the world” — especially Peterson.
“Seeing how excited she was about her work is part of the reason I’m going to graduate school,” says Guy.
The other part, she says, is her simple love of lifelong learning.
“Physics helps you understand everything else, and I always like knowing how things work,” she says. “College was a challenge and I worked really hard, but school has been fun for me. I can’t imagine myself being satisfied without this in my life.”