Samantha Berry ’22 Goes from High School Dropout to Fulbright Scholar

May 5, 2022
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Samantha Berry '22

At age 17 Samantha Berry ’22 dropped out of high school to help care for her mother. Next week, Samantha is graduating with honors from Bryn Mawr with a degree in physics and as a Fulbright Scholar bound for the Netherlands.

“My mother has crohn’s disease, and in my junior year of high school she had a very bad flare up,” explains Samantha about why she had to leave high school. “My mom, my two older sisters, and I ended up living in a single bedroom apartment in Chicago for access to better doctors, but my mom wasn't able to work and couldn't pay the hospital for her required treatment.”

For the better part of a year, Samantha cared for her mother while her sisters worked to pay the bills.

“I tried to keep up with school but couldn't handle academics while seeing my mother wither away.”

Eventually, Samantha’s mother’s health improved and, with the help of disability income, the family was able to improve their day-to-day living situation. Samantha began to look once again toward her future.

“I was incredibly depressed during and after this and only found the courage to go back to school once I realized getting a GED was an option. I happened to get the GED the same year I would have graduated high school, so I'm glad I didn't lose much time.”

After getting her GED, Samantha enrolled at the City Colleges of Chicago, where she earned an associate’s degree.

“I always knew I was a scientist by all the questions I asked and how I gravitated toward textbooks and Magic School Bus type shows,” recalls Samantha. “In community college I realized I liked math and was good at it! But I also wanted to apply it in some way to understand the world. I was most interested in understanding physics and astrophysics, so when it was time to transfer, I knew I wanted to focus on that!”

Several of the professors and staff members at CCC became mentors to Samantha and one day she was talking to one of them about next steps.

“I spoke with them about how I didn't really connect with the people in my physics classes. In those classes 30 out of 32 people were men, so naturally that mentor recommended a historically women's college! I didn't even know those existed! After looking into Bryn Mawr more and seeing the financial, academic, and professional resources they had I knew it would be a good place for me.”

Samantha has conducted research with Professor Andrea Lommen at Haverford College and colleagues from Ewha Womans University in South Korea on analyzing binary black hole populations and statistics in a recent cosmological simulation, Horizon Run 5. 

“I also have been able to explore my love for community and science outreach with Professor Karen Masters while working at Haverford's Strawbridge Observatory planning public observing nights.”

Samantha has also been active outside of the Bi-Co. In the summer of 2021, she was a NASA intern at Langley Research Center as a systems engineer working on the concepts of operations for an in-time aviation management system involving unmanned and manned systems. This summer, Samantha will be part of an international summer program at Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

“It is one of the top institutes internationally for theoretic physics and I will be working with Dr. Ghazal Geshnizjani to study the cross correlation of dark matter and dark energy signatures in recent multimessenger observations.”

Samantha begins her time as a Fulbright Scholar in the fall at Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands. She’s enrolled in a physics and astronomy master’s program with a specialization in science, management, and innovation.

“With this specialization I can still study super cool physics topics like general relativity and gravitational waves but also look at how scientists can help find solutions to societal issues like sustainability and energy,” says Samantha.

As a Fulbright Scholar Samantha will receive a monthly stipend of 1,300 euros for 23 months.

“This should cover my living and most of my tuition, but it will definitely be tight and my savings will probably be depleted! I also will get reimbursements for travel/moving cost and residence permit cost.”

After so many busy years, Samantha isn’t looking too far ahead at this point. She may pursue a Ph.D. or take advantage of other, more immediate research opportunities.

“Through dealing with everything that life has thrown at me, I've learned to take things in stride. So, I have a flexible plan just in case I need to make room for the unexpected!