The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has awarded Sophomore Alexander Pantoja the prestigious Thomas D. Rossing Physics Scholarships for 2021-2022 totaling $10,000. Each year, the ELCA presents only 10 of these competitive awards for recognition of excellence in physics among undergraduates within their network of 26 colleges and universities.
Dr. Rossing began his academic career as a professor at St. Olaf College, where he became chair of the physics department, and later continued at Northern Illinois University. Now retired, he continues to teach part-time at Stanford University. He established the scholarship in 2005 to recognize the best and brightest undergraduates across the ELCA college network while simultaneously helping to increase the amount of financial aid they receive.
TLU Physics Department Chair Dr. Toni Sauncy calls the scholarship one of the gems of the ELCA's support for academic excellence as it conveys confidence, as well as the inherent value of physics departments at affiliated schools at liberal arts institutions with smaller physics departments.
"The fact this scholarship exists is an acknowledgement of smaller physics departments that support the outstanding accomplishments of their students and that the work is valued highly by the ELCA," she said. "For TLU to have Alex on the short list of only 10 recipients confirms that our program is recognized nationwide as a program with merit. For Alex, being named a Rossing Scholarship recipient is an acknowledgement that he's competitive at a high level, that he has excelled in a rigorous program, and that he's being given the necessary support to distinguish himself among his peers across the nation."
Originally from Pahokee, Florida, Pantoja has lived in Seguin for the last 10 years. However, he says his initial interest in physics happened when he was a child in Florida.
"My father and mother always pushed me toward academia at a young age, and I connected with math and science," he said. "Doing experiments and finding answers resonated with me."
Pantoja, whose current favorite subjects are theoretical ideas and time dilation, said he was shocked when he found out he made the list.
"I really couldn't believe it," he said. "I never thought they would take a chance on me, but this amazing opportunity helps my family and me in so many ways that can't be described. I never thought I would be seen in this way and it truly makes me happy. I will not take this opportunity for granted."
After graduation, Pantoja plans on earning his master's degree and going into the engineering field. He also wants prospective students to understand they can be successful in challenging disciplines in different areas of STEM.
"One of my goals is to definitely make a change in some way within the community or the field of physics," he said. "For any future STEM majors who feel down on their luck or who might think they can't do it, I say: never give up. This pandemic has made it tough for all students, but trust that you are not alone. There are always people here at TLU you can talk to. I think an issue we’ve all been facing lately is a lack of communication, but I promise talking to upperclassmen, professors, and friends, will only lead to improvement within yourself. Just keep pushing and trying."
About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 3.7 million members in more than 9,300 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.