SRP’s Lasting Impact: How One Summer Can Change a Life

Alexandra Ballow grew up in a small town of 1700 in Ohio where cornfields surrounded her high school on three sides. She did not know how to navigate academia or how to push and prove herself in top-tier research. That all changed when Dr. Alina Lazar, one of Alexandra’s professors at Youngstown State University, invited her to participate in Sustainable Horizon Institute’s Sustainable Research Pathways (SRP) program at Berkeley Lab. The SRP program made such an impact on her life and studies, she came back the next year.

Alexandra’s first SRP was with the Scientific Data Management group. While there, she researched mitigating the effect missing values in data have on cluster results. She later published and became a grand finalist for the ACM Student Research Competition with that research. This, she says, “Gave me invaluable confidence.”

That first year she also met Dr. Silvia Crivelli through an elevator pitch competition. Dr. Crivelli suggested she apply for SHI’s Broader Engagement (BE) program at SIAM CSE. And it was at this conference, through the BE program that she met Dr. Ann Almgren who invited her to work with her group the next summer through SRP at Berkeley Lab. That second year, Alexandra studied a nano-scale pressure sensor by modeling all of the physics associated with its nano-scale fluid flows.

For Alexandra one of the most impactful aspects of the SRP program and SHI support was the ability to see herself in top-tier scientists. “I am always drawn to and inspired by female researchers. It’s not that women do better research, it’s that I can envision myself through them, and that is a very powerful thing,” she says. “It brings confidence, direction, and even hope in the grueling journey to becoming an academic.”

She recently graduated with a dual degree in Mathematics and Physics and will start her Ph.D. at Montana State University this autumn, focusing on algebraic topology and geometric physics. She has gone on to receive scholarships to attend conferences across the country, including to Grace Hopper 2018, SIAM CSE19 (where she presented a poster and gave poster Blitz presentation), and Tapia 2019 where she was one of 14 undergraduate grand finalists for the ACM Student Research competition. She was also funded to attend SIAM CSE21 through the BE program.

And because the SHI support does not end when a program ends, Dr. Crivelli also suggested Alexandra apply for the prestigious Department of Energy’s Computational Science Graduate Fellowship (CSGF), which Alexandra was awarded for 2021.

As Alexandra says, “SHI provides the opportunity to meet incredible, awe-inspiring people in

person, and prove yourself capable of learning and growing under their guidance.”

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