barnard statue graphic with graph

As a young girl, Iris Liu ’22 loved nothing more than learning about weather as her mother read related picture books to her. “Upon seeing my deep interest in these books and science as a topic, my mother got me a children’s science encyclopedia when I was 7,” Liu (above) says. “I remember looking through the pages and finding one on atoms. I was truly amazed because learning about the existence of atoms answered my own questions about the universe.”

This early exposure to science was the first step on a path to Barnard’s Science Pathways Scholars Program — (SP)2 — in which Liu is a physics major. Designed to provide STEM education and mentorship to exceptional minority and first-generation students, (SP)2 was seemingly tailor-made for Liu. “I learned about (SP)2 when Professor Sedelia Rodriguez encouraged me to apply,” she says. “I found the program appealing because it is focused on helping us find research opportunities and working towards becoming research scientists. If it weren’t for the professors encouraging us, I probably wouldn’t have sought research opportunities until I was a junior.”

Instead, armed with the confidence her professors instilled, Liu participated in the Summer Research Institute (SRI) after her freshman year and every year since. In this program, Liu took on a project centered on the environmental parameters contributing to storm asymmetry between the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. “I eventually published a journal article detailing my findings and presented a poster at the 2020 American Meteorological Society conference,” she says. “The project made me realize just how much I enjoy the process of scientific research.”

Post-graduation, Liu hopes to continue her education, in applied physics or materials science, eventually becoming either a professor or a research scientist at a national lab. “Additionally, I would like to engage in more outreach at my institution and teach as a TA or a tutor,” she says.

As she reflects on her academic and eventual career paths, there’s no question that Liu’s mother planted the seeds for her to pursue STEM. But the (SP)2 program allowed her to take the next steps. “I know for sure I would not be in such a good place for a graduate school application if the (SP)2 professors didn’t encourage and help us find research opportunities early in our college careers,” she says. “The friendships I’ve made through the program have been invaluable as well. My peers are some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met, and I’m a better person and scientist for having met them.”

Latest IssueWinter 2023