A great leap forward for MPS scholars’ careers

April 23, 2024

Standing on Asilomar State Beach just west of Monterey, Marius Castro talked with dozens of his fellow UC Berkeley students for hours under the moonlight. The moment felt special to Castro, like he was in a movie. In actuality, he was attending the first annual MPS Scholars retreat.

“Everybody I met had such good vibes,” said Castro, a third-year student double majoring in applied mathematics and computer science. “I probably made more connections with faculty, alumni, and Ph.D. students in that single weekend than I have during the rest of my time at Cal. As a student, it's rare you come across deep, one-on-one conversations with faculty, especially in large departments.”

The March 2024 retreat was open to any Berkeley student majoring in physics, astronomy, mathematics, or earth and planetary science. Even after doubling capacity to 100 undergraduate and 15 graduate students, the program could not accommodate the high demand.

Undergraduates heard advice from faculty, alums, and graduate students in keynote speeches and panel discussions. They learned tips for communicating research findings and practiced their public speaking skills in three-minute presentations. After a long day, attendees bonded over dinner, bonfire s’mores, and faculty-led tidepooling, stargazing, and geology trips.

Heading into Asilomar, Castro had never thought a Ph.D. would be in his future.

“I'm a first-generation student of color from a low-income background,” said Castro. “No one has ever sat down with me and let me know how real of an option that was. I walked away from that retreat with a very real contemplation of continuing my education past Cal for the first time in my life.”

The associate director of MPS Scholars, Claire-Marie Kooi, is thrilled whenever a student discovers their purpose.

“The retreat surpassed our expectations,” said Kooi. “It is a wonderful experience to watch MPS Scholars connect with each other, faculty, staff, and their future selves. Each person is unique, and so is their path to success in the mathematical and physical sciences. We exist to help students visualize their own journey.”

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A student wearing a backpack jumps away from the camera to a rock at the beach.

Zion Mayo jumps to a rock while examining the tidepools by Asilomar.

Each person is unique, and so is their path to success in the mathematical and physical sciences.
Claire-Marie Kooi
A group of students walk toward the camera on a sandy path

Marius Castro (right) talks with Zion Mayo and other attendees on the way to the beach.

A woman gestures to a large projection screen.

Physics student Karla Morales De Leon presents on the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope’s camera.

A woman smiles, holding her phone in one hand and her sweater's zipper in the other.

Alejandra Meza talks with Professor Courtney Dressing after a series of student presentations.

A smiling man holds a microphone as a second panelist listens

Will Decker (right) and Sean McCauley participate in a career panel with MPS alums.