My Rollins Gateway: Down to a Science
October 07, 2020
By Robert Stephens
Valedictorian Josephine Spiegelberg ’20 grew up in a family of physicists, but her Rollins experience empowered her to weave any subject matter into her research. Now she’s ready to change the world.
Physics major Josephine Spiegelberg ’20 has mastered the art of multitasking. As a Rollins student, she’d conduct lab research on planets and then raise money for classmates in need through the Student Support Foundation—changing how we view our universe and our world in the same afternoon. In May, while Spiegelberg finished up her virtual valedictorian address, she was also deep into personal projects: re-outfitting her old playroom into an office and catching up on some reading.
“Right now it’s The Hobbit,” she says, “because I haven’t read for pleasure in a while.”
The budding scientist has at least one more ball in the air—preparing to start her master’s studies through McGill University in Montreal. Once the border reopens to Canada, Spiegelberg will enter a lab at McGill to investigate a tiny phenomenon: nanoimaging at an atomic scale (i.e., microscopic materials changing in the blink of an eye).
“Research is part of a big picture,” says Spiegelberg, who was the first Rollins student to be selected to present her research to Congress at the prestigious Posters on the Hill session that was unfortunately cancelled due to COVID-19. “At Rollins I saw how science can make an impact in ways I never knew. That’s why I’m eager to get back into the lab.”
You’d think Spiegelberg had a physics path paved for her long before enrolling at Rollins. Her parents are physicists who moved to the U.S. from Germany in 1996. Science talk was part of family dinner. Yet she was tempted to take her own route, like pre-law, away from home in Winter Park.
“But Rollins allowed me to explore. I became more well-rounded from the conversations we’d have in English, philosophy, and political science classes. The content had nothing to do with physical science, but it fed into my overall curiosity about the world. My first year at Rollins, I had a physics class with Professor Chris Fuse that opened a new door.”
After Fuse mentioned Rollins’ Student-Faculty Collaborative Scholarship Program, Spiegelberg asked if she could help with his research on planet formation. “I was a freshman and he made it my project,” she says. As a second-year student, she won an award for the research from the American Aeronautical Society in a field of scientists, professors, graduate students, and very few undergraduates.
“Dr. Fuse gave me advice, but he always empowered me to lead my own way.”
Spiegelberg also credits political science professor Dan Chong for sparking her interest in a political science minor. “He helped me connect physics knowledge with policy and current events. That kind of critical thinking will be useful throughout life.”
Liberal Arts in Action
Spiegelberg took opportunities to apply key concepts out in the field—way out. She helped build labs while studying “really cold helium” in a summer program at UC Davis. In Strasburg, France, she interned in the same lab where her mother studied more than 20 years earlier. She studied in Germany, learning physics, green politics, and literature from a German perspective in the German language.
“I was able to keep pace because of how Rollins had prepared me. Professionals respected my input too. It made the idea of global citizenship come to life, how we can accomplish big things through a collaboration of perspectives.”
The multifaceted physicist curled up with The Hobbit in her playroom-turned-office has proven she can command a hall filled with scientists or a class full of students—in their language and at their level of understanding. She’s discovered a love for research and an ability to apply it through multiple lenses, anywhere in the world.
“In high school, I thought about leaving Winter Park for college. But the exploration that’s encouraged at Rollins has shown me what’s possible when you blur boundaries inside and outside a lab. It’s about seizing every opportunity to make the world a better place.”
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