Andrew DeBenedictis '08

Andrew DeBenedictis

Andrew DeBenedictis '08

Major: Physics; Minor: Spanish
Hometown: Wakefield, Mass.

Why did you choose to come to Bowdoin?
In looking for schools, I was fairly certain that I wanted to do something in the sciences, but I wanted to be able to continue with classes in the humanities as well. Also, I really wanted a smaller school so that I would not end up in huge classes with teachers that would not even recognize me, so I kept my college search limited to small liberal arts schools that were out of state, but close to home. I had a great visiting experience at Bowdoin, especially because I was able to get my older brother's friends to take me around the campus. Honestly, the main reason I ultimately came to Bowdoin was the food. I know it sounds a bit ridiculous but, to me, eating is absolutely crucial. A great meal will put me in a good mood and a bad one will just bring me down; and so I often find myself planning my days around my eating schedule. Silly for sure, but true.

Why did you choose your major?
It was actually my senior year AP calculus teacher who got me thinking about physics. He was the sort of person to whom you really listen when he says something, so I seriously considered it when he said that I seemed like a good fit for a physics major. I had always enjoyed the physics classes I took in high school and I loved the idea of knowing how and why things work. I still wasn't sure about it at all when I got to Bowdoin, but I signed up for Intermediate Physics my freshman fall to try things out. The class was a little intimidating at first, but Prof. Steve Naculich would always get so excited about the class material and loved to explain all these neat natural phenomena using what we were learning. Basically, the class was just fantastic and got me really excited, so each class I was surer of my major. The day we learned why the sky is blue just sealed the deal.

What has been a course you especially enjoyed at Bowdoin?
In the spring of my freshman year, I took Introduction to Architectural Design, which was just amazing. I had always really enjoyed the idea of architecture, especially because of its blend of art and science, but I had never had any chance to dabble in it until Bowdoin, so I decided to try it out. The class is always in high demand, but I was lucky enough to get in; it turned out to be spectacular. It was a decent time commitment, but the work was so interesting and fun that it was never stressful. I am not about to run off into a career as an architect or anything, but it serves as a perfect example of something that I am thrilled to have taken advantage of because I may not have another opportunity to do so.

What professor or professors have especially inspired you during your time at Bowdoin?
Coming to Bowdoin, one of the only things I was sure of was that I didn't want anything to do with history or foreign language classes. Now I am a Spanish minor. Clearly, something happened. Sophomore year, I realized that I wanted an entirely different experience from American life — different language and all — so I was forced to return to Spanish, the only foreign language in which I had any background. In high school, I had taken a couple years of Spanish, but found the classes to be just utterly disenchanting; not even the teacher would be excited about the subject, and so the entire class was a wash. Still, I really loved the idea of being able to go to Spain, and so I decided to give it a shot. I had Genie Wheelwright as a teacher for Introductory Spanish and I immediately regretted not having taken a class in the department sooner. The class was engaging, fun, and, as a reflection of her excitement for the language, everyone there was excited and involved. She even made sure to assess each member of the class in oral examinations a couple times throughout the semester. Even these were more pleasure than pain — I remember during the first one I ever had, my partner and I were forced to come up with an on-the-fly retelling of the three little pigs! At the end of the semester, she had us work in groups to put together plays for the rest of the class (we masterminded a brilliant rendition of the Alamo). Since then, she has become my go-to for all things Spanish and even though I don't have her for class anymore, I still stop by her office every once in a while just to charlar.

Have you engaged in any independent research while at Bowdoin?
Just this semester, I am beginning work on an honors project with Professor Naculich in the physics department. I cannot really explain too much about things right now because I am still working on understanding the material myself, but I will be investigating the relation between two different fields of string theory, known as string theory type IIA and M-theory.

What extracurricular or work experiences have you had at Bowdoin?
I feel like this is one thing that I have done pretty well at taking advantage of here. A group of friends and I started a soccer team for the fall intramural season freshman/sophomore year, and we just kept together and ran pretty much the whole gamut of IM sports: outdoor soccer, indoor soccer, softball, dodgeball, and both 3v3 and 5v5 basketball. It's a great way to stay active through the seasons and it gives you the chance to play a whole bunch of different games at varying skill levels.

Also, freshman year, my friend Dylan Masters and I started an IM badminton group, which has grown tremendously and still continues stronger than ever. We meet twice a week throughout all seasons. This, especially, exemplifies a great intramural program, wherein if you've got a good idea to start something, the residential life office will back you entirely and help you to get it off the ground. Knowing a couple kids on the team, I also played club volleyball freshman year and part of sophomore year. I had to stop because I just didn't have the time for it, but I was really glad I had the chance. I had never played serious volleyball before then, so it gave me a chance to learn something new and meet some great people.

Finally, last year, my friend Ryan convinced me to join the JV soccer team here, and it is one of the best things I have done. It is a great opportunity to play with good players on a more regular basis, and again, just a great way to meet a whole new crowd of people.

Musically, I knew I needed to get involved to keep me sane, so I went out and joined a jazz combo freshman year (I am a drummer) which, again, is a nice casual way to keep playing without being engulfed in something highly time-consuming. This seems like it shouldn't be to hard for a school to organize, but I have heard enough stories of other larger schools, where it is effectively impossible for a non-music major to get in on any performing groups, to know that I am lucky. Now I am playing in a student-run weekly jazz jam session, where anyone who wants to play can just stop by at their leisure and rock out for a bit with us.

Finally, for work, I help correct homework assignments for the physics department. It is nice in that I can work on my own time schedule, and it helps me refresh my memory on classes that I've taken in previous semesters.

Did you study abroad during your time at Bowdoin?
I spent last spring in Granada, Spain, and it was easily one of the best experiences of my life. It was a complete change of pace from Bowdoin and from the United States, and I had a chance to really get involved in the lifestyle of another culture. I stayed with a family, hung out with Spanish friends, and just lived entirely on their schedule. Obviously, I could go on for hours explaining all that I learned there and how thoroughly worthwhile it all was, but you really have to experience it to understand. Additionally, being a physics major, I was able to get completely away from science for a while (although Granada does have an awesome Parque de las Ciencias) and focus on something entirely different to help me take a step back and regroup before plunging into senior year.

What have you done during your summers?
The summer after my freshman year, my friends and I bought a school bus. We had dreamt of this since high school, but I never really thought it would happen until I got a phone call from a friend during finals explaining that they had just bought one. So, we spent that entire summer working in my friend Glen's backyard, ripping out the inside and turning the bus into an RV, which we then used to road trip across the country for three weeks in August. The whole process of the conversion and the trip itself is an experience that I am most proud of.

The following summer, I worked as a one-on-one math tutor for a girl that needed to pass the MCAS (one of standardized testing's more hideous faces) in order to graduate, and then my friends and I took the bus out for another spin around the country just before heading back to school.

This past summer, I ended up doing research at Michigan State University as a part of the REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) program, which I applied to while in Spain. While over there, a group of nineteen other physics students and I were each paired with a professor at the university to help with some aspect of his/her research. I chose to work on a fascinating solar panel project that aimed to create a device model for thin-film polymer solar cells. We hoped to gain a thorough understanding of these cells so that we could find ways to make them more efficient. It was really interesting work, and it was nice just to see how a large, research-oriented physics department operates.

What is your best Bowdoin memory?
Freshman year, my roommate Phil and I went downtown to help one of our hall-mates gather up some big boxes from the appliance store on Maine Street for a campout on the Quad. The two of us carried this one huge refrigerator box all the way back to campus, but as we crossed the Quad on our way to Hyde Hall, we saw our proctor walking across in the other direction. Just as we spotted her, she saw us as well and gave a friendly wave, and then something magical happened. Without even a pico-second of hesitation or a word of communication, we were off and running, chasing our poor proctor as fast as we could across the Quad. Her smile faded into shock as she realized the situation in which she found herself and she took off too, bolting away from the large corrugated box, her potential prison, just feet behind her. We chased and chased across a large portion of the Quad, gaining inch by inch as she frantically tried to explain that she had a meeting to get to. In the end, the box slipped from our hands and she got away, but to this day, I still laugh every time I think of it, just hoping that someone, bored in class or in his/her dorm, happened to glance out the window just in time to see the proctor of first floor Hyde fleeing desperately from a refrigerator box, guided by two freshmen, as the three of us sprinted across the Quad.

Granted, it's completely impossible choose just one best memory, but I feel like most of my favorite memories here have been the outcome of something of this general form, wherein a silly, spur-of-the-moment idea is suddenly taken further than one might normally, just because it seems like a good idea at the time. Impromptu snowball fights, good-natured proctor harassment, fantastic Halloween adventures, and friendly kidnappings are just a few of the possible results.

What are your plans for after graduation?
At the moment, this is still one of the most daunting questions for me. At some point, I plan to go to graduate school to study physics, but I am not ready to jump into that quite yet. I feel like graduate school is a good way to catapult yourself into a career, and I simply don't know enough about what I want to do to be able to set out along that path just yet. Instead, I will take some time off from school and hopefully have the chance to explore the world and some other opportunities that may be out there while I am able to do so. It is something that results in a bit of stress, but I just have to keep reminding myself that nothing is concrete and that no matter what I do I will be able to find something I enjoy.

What advice would you give to a prospective student or first-year about the Bowdoin experience?
Don't get too committed to one thing right away. Being here suddenly presents you with a whole world of new opportunities, and you should really take full advantage of the incredible range of activities going on across campus. I don't mean that you shouldn't get highly involved in what you enjoy, but if you get too thoroughly ingrained in something right away, you will find yourself too occupied to try something new. And odds are you won't have many more chances to get out and explore new activities. Just fearlessly be your delightful self and you will find that people will appreciate you for this and will in turn open up more themselves.

What quirky or fun thing did you wish you knew before you came to Bowdoin?
Honestly, I kind of wish that I had known about Super Snack [late-night dining]. I mean, I seriously doubt that I would have been able to fully appreciate the concept as a prospective student, but even without knowing the real experience, the idea is pretty amazing, and definitely a good thing to know. I don't even think it is some sort of secret to the prospective students, but somehow I managed to lack any knowledge of its existence up until the first or second week of school. But then again, it was a fantastic surprise to suddenly discover...

Story posted on September 24, 2007

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