Two Rising Seniors Receive Full-Tuition Scholarships for Women in Science

Abby Corrigan '19 and Sarah McGuire '19 named 2018-19 Clare Boothe Luce Scholars

Abby Corrigan '19, a physics and economics major, and Sarah McGuire '19, a mathematics major with a minor in computer science, have been named recipients of the competitive Clare Boothe Luce Scholarship for the 2018-19 academic year.

The scholarship, which covers the students' tuition and fees, is awarded to two women entering their fourth year at the College of the Holy Cross and majoring in the physical sciences, including mathematics, computer science, physics and chemistry. The College also supports the Clare Boothe Luce Scholars with paid research fellowships during the summer prior to the start of their senior year.

Abby Corrigan '19

Abby Corrigan stands in front of the doors of O'Kane Hall. Photo by Tom Rettig

Abby Corrigan first became interested in physics after taking Introduction to Physics with Janine Shertzer, Distinguished Professor of Science, in the fall of her first year at Holy Cross.

"I have always been fascinated with the math and models that can be used to describe the world, and I realized freshman year that the physics major would be a great fit for me," explains Corrigan.

In addition to taking a wide range of courses with many different professors, Corrigan started conducting research the lab of Tomohiko Narita, associate professor of physics, where she investigated cosmic ray showers and built her own cosmic ray telescope from photomultipliers, plastic scintillators and readout electronics.

"This was a fantastic experience and encouraged me to seriously consider graduate school," says Corrigan, who will continue researching cosmic rays during her senior year.

"Cosmic rays are high energy, ionized nuclei that travel from outside of the solar system to earth at speeds close to the speed of light," she explains. "I will calculate the probability that a certain particle with a certain momentum will take a particular path in order to gain a better understanding of cosmic rays as a whole."

This past year, Corrigan served on the executive planning committee for Women in Science Day, where she noticed there weren't too many female alumnae in physics. "Physics has been largely a male dominated field, more so than other physical sciences. Though I have never found this to be a limiting factor, it is an extra motivation to continue in the physics field and encourage other women to become involved with physics as well."

Throughout her senior year, Corrigan's goal is to boost the number of female physics majors by creating a mentoring program to give female high school physics students the opportunity to experience college-level physics courses and help them explore the opportunities in the field. Corrigan also aims to create more networking events for women interested in physics.

Corrigan hopes to continue on to graduate school for applied physics after Holy Cross. "I would like to be able to use physics theories, big data, mathematics and computer science to be able to solve engineering or technological problems."

Sarah McGuire '19

Sarah McGuire is photographed during her semester abroad in Scotland. Photo by Cara Powell

After taking the course Topology with David Damiano, professor of mathematics, during her sophomore year, Sarah McGuire was introduced to the research that would become a major focus of her time at Holy Cross.

This ongoing research, conducted in collaboration with Damiano and Richard Schmidt, Edward A. O'Rorke Professor in the Liberal Arts, brings together the fields of computer science, topological analysis, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience.

"The broad goal of this project is to determine differences in neurophysiological activity for those with developmental disorders, specifically Autism Spectrum Disorder," explains McGuire, who spent a summer collecting data at the Child and Adolescent NeuroDevelopment Initiative (CANDI) laboratory at UMass Medical School through the Weiss Summer Research Program. "We aim to expand our understanding of brain signal networks that underlie social interaction in general, and specifically, in networks implicated in the breakdown in social communication and interaction associated with developmental disorders."

McGuire spent the entirety of her junior year studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, but was still able to continue working part-time on the research. This summer, she will be returning to campus to continue the project, focusing on applying additional topological methods to the data she's collected.

During her senior year, McGuire plans to organize a "Day of Coding" for young girls in Worcester.

"If we are able to harness the natural curiosity of young girls, equipping them with basic tools of problem solving and logical thinking, then they will be better analytical thinkers even if they don’t pursue mathematics or computer science."

"Through my studies in mathematics and computer science, as well as my exposure to interdisciplinary research, I have gained practical experience on research methods in applied mathematics," McGuire offers. "After graduating from Holy Cross, continuing my interdisciplinary interest, I plan to pursue a graduate degree in the areas of computational data analysis and applied mathematics."

Clare Boothe Luce Program at Holy Cross

In 2015, Holy Cross received its second major grant from the Henry Luce Foundation in the amount of $218,722 to fund the competitive Clare Boothe Luce Program at the College, providing scholarships to women in the classes of 2017 through 2019. Holy Cross’ Clare Boothe Luce Scholars serve as role models and facilitators for additional programming developed and funded by the College, aimed to attract female students to major in the physical sciences.

The first grant offered scholarships to women in the classes of 2010 through 2014, and both grants were authored by Daniel Bitran, science coordinator and professor of psychology.