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Ashley Dwyer: Loyola’s Choudhury Sarkar-Dey Medal

I started to learn about anthropogenic climate change and its adAshley Dwyerverse effects on different societies in high school. Through classes at Loyola, I learned how important it is to understand these effects through climate science research because some societies will be impacted more than others. This captured my attention. I realized that being able to solve a piece of the puzzle on how the climate is changing and to be able to educate and help others on the effects of the changing climate on different societies was a field that I had to enter. 

Loyola has been able to prepare me for this career in many ways. Not only have I been able to develop the strong math and physics skills that will launch me into the atmospheric science field to do research on climate variability, but the writing, humanities, and social science courses that I have taken for the core and my minor will allow me to communicate important concepts to the public. Loyola has taught me the importance of helping others and the role that an individual can have in the lives of other people.

I worked as a Hauber Research Fellow in the summer of 2021. During this research internship, I developed a model using Mathematica to help generalize an approach to modeling the temperature-dependent optical absorption of thulium-doped YAG (an infrared laser material). While creating this model, I took absorption spectra of the thulium-YAG crystal at different temperatures to test that the model was consistent with these measurements and that it accurately predicts the absorption of Thulium at different temperatures and at different transition wavelengths. I presented this research both at the end of the Hauber summer session and again at the undergraduate research colloquium in April 2021. I am also a coauthor on a paper in the Proceedings of SPIE for optical components and materials that was published in March 2022. An abstract has also been submitted on further research of the optical spectroscopy of thulium-doped YAG for the American Physical Society March Meeting.

In the summer of 2022, I earned a position in the Earth Science on Volcanic Islands (ESVI) REU at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. During this research experience, I worked to analyze and interpret isotopic composition of rainfall in the Pacific by visualizing data using Python from fifteen locations with between five and sixty years of precipitation data. Our goal was to determine unique factors that the visualization of the isotopic composition data showed that other factors could not and to better understand precipitation patterns on Pacific islands. This work was important because Pacific islands receive most of their fresh water from precipitation and to study the precipitation patterns of different islands is very important to helping understand how and where this precipitation originates and can benefit the understanding of the hydrology of the islands. This work was presented in a poster presentation at the end of the REU session.

I am currently a peer tutor for Loyola. In this role, I assess, assist, and encourage my peers in the learning process for courses such as Physics I and II, Calculus III and upper-level math, and environmental biology. I have committed approximately 6 hours per week during the school year to tutoring on top of my full course load and practice schedule as a member of the varsity volleyball team. In the fall of 2021, I earned an International Tutor Training Certification from the College Reading & Learning Association. I also participate as a teaching assistant for the general physics courses, where I aid in developing critical thinking skills for physics students. I have been the physics club co-president since 2021 where I plan meetings, guide discussions about physics opportunities, and promote internship possibilities to help others further their physics or physics-related education. My goals during my involvement with these activities is to encourage and lead women who are entering STEM fields and to demonstrate the success that women can have in these fields. Too often there are few women in STEM departments, especially physics, where it can feel overwhelming to navigate the field as a woman because of the few role models that are of the same gender. I help advocate to others about careers in STEM fields, demonstrate the opportunities that can come from a degree in these fields, and break down the barriers. This is an advocacy that I take with me through tutoring, being a teaching assistant and as co-president of the Physics club. I hope to inspire others that have an interest in STEM fields to continue discovering their passion for these fields and to support them.

I was also a member of the Varsity Volleyball Team during my four years at Loyola where I was a captain during the 2022-2023 season. During my career, I hoped to not only compete successfully at the highest level of college athletics, but also continue to advocate for female-athletes and the respect that we have earned and deserve. Now that I have finished my career, I hope to demonstrate leadership and teamwork through coaching. During 2022-2023 I joined a local volleyball club where I am coaching a group of girls that are just being introduced to volleyball. Most of them have never been on a volleyball team before and are learning the dynamic of being on a team. My goal is to not only to help these girls develop their volleyball skills, but to help guide them in the principles of teamwork, communication, and how working hard can lead to great results.

Growing up with a strong support system, I recognize how important it is for young women to have positive role models in their life whether that is for the STEM field or in sports. To encourage them that they can accomplish anything that they set their mind to, especially if that includes entering a field or a sport setting which has historically been dominated by men and leads to negative stereotyping of women. I hope to continue to break down the barriers in the sports world and in the STEM fields and encourage women to pursue their passions and interests.

Furthermore, although everyone will feel the effects of climate change, some will be affected more than others. I hope to contribute to research in climate variability that would allow for better and more accurate predictions to be made about what will change in precipitation patterns, sea surface temperatures, and key climate players such as El Nino-Southern Oscillation. This will allow for more significant action to be taken in adapting to our changing world and better assist marginalized societies that are affected first.

Loyola has not only taught me the skills needed to conduct this research and how to be a role model for women in STEM and in sports, but through its commitment to care for the whole person, has taught me a lot about empathy for others. This last lesson will guide me the most in my career and life after Loyola.