Physics major Mckenzie Ferrari is poised to join the next generation of leaders in astrophysics research.
Updated: June 2023
Meet Physics Major Mckenzie Ferrari
During her stellar undergraduate career at UMass Dartmouth, Mckenzie Ferrari proved that even the highest goals are within her reach. Her dedication to pursuing high-level research prepared her to enter a PhD program at the University of Chicago after graduation.
McKenzie is a student motivated by "the big questions." With a major in physics and a minor in philosophy, she sees surprising connections between two seemingly unrelated fields; both philosophy and physics are concerned with life’s big questions about the universe and the human experience.
How and why did you get interested in Physics as a course of study and as a career?
"I didn’t always plan to study physics; I didn’t particularly enjoy it in high school. But I was interested in chemistry and engineering, and I realized the underlying thread between those things was actually physics. I became especially interested in the intersection of physics and astronomy, and how these big questions about the universe affect our day-to-day lives on earth."
Regarding her humanities minor, she says, "Philosophy teaches you how to think, how to formulate arguments, and how to express those arguments in a succinct way, and that is a very useful set of skills in the study of physics."
Mckenzie is a...
Mckenzie’s research focuses on type Ia supernovae – stars that explode – and simulations that model them. Her research activity has resulted in multiple national recognitions and scientific publications – an uncommon feat for an undergraduate student.
In 2022, she was one of 60 students selected nationwide to participate in the Council on Undergraduate Research "Posters on the Hill" event. The same year, Mckenzie was selected for the Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), one of the most prestigious astrophysics REUs in the nation.
“Participating in the research internship at Harvard was a fantastic experience. I got to meet students from all over the country with different skill sets. It was a great opportunity to broaden my horizons and learn about new topics.”
In the spring of 2023, Mckenzie won UMassD's inaugural award for outstanding research by an undergraduate student, and won first place in the undergraduate division of the 2023 Three Minute Thesis competition.
Why should students do research?
“Research takes the things you learn in class and applies them to a problem that needs to be solved. Participating in research as an undergraduate is a unique opportunity to work alongside faculty and prepare yourself for doing research at a higher level in the future. Pursuing research also allows me to explore the big questions that made me interested in this field in the first place.”
McKenzie was the first student in UMassD history to be awarded the Goldwater Scholarship. The Goldwater Scholarship is awarded to sophomore- and junior-level students who show exceptional promise in becoming the nation's next generation of natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering research leaders.
Mckenzie played on the women’s tennis team at UMassD, and served as captain during the 2021 and 2022 seasons. “Being on the women’s tennis team was a great way to meet other students on campus; all of my teammates were from different majors and getting to know them was a great way for me to experience other things outside of physics.”
In June 2023, Mckenzie was named the 2023 winner of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Sally Ride STEM Award, as endowed by Tam O’Shaughnessy. The award is presented annually to a female student-athlete who demonstrates zeal, dedication, and perseverance towards her tennis training and competition, STEM studies, and long-term goals. This honor distinguishes Mckenzie among her peers from the most prestigious schools across the country, and includes a grant to support Mckenzie as she continues to pursue her dreams.
Mckenzie was an active member of the Women in Engineering (WiE) community at UMassD, serving as a peer mentor for other women in STEM.
“UMass Dartmouth provides a very supportive atmosphere for women in science. One of the challenges for women in STEM is not seeing other women in STEM. So, having a community specifically for women engineers here on campus is a great way to see that there are other people like you.
“As a peer mentor in the WiE community, I held office hours and hosted events for the women in the engineering community to help get them involved on campus. I loved being a peer mentor because I fed off my students’ enthusiasm and love for the subject of science.”
What is the biggest change you’ve seen in yourself since the beginning of your college journey at UMassD?
“The biggest change has been in my level of confidence. I wasn’t always confident in my academic abilities early on, but my experience here has allowed me to grow and become more confident.”
Tell us about a challenge you experienced and overcame
“The first time I applied for the Goldwater Scholarship, I was rejected. That experience gave me the opportunity to spend some time working on my application to get it ready to resubmit. The next time around, my application was accepted. I learned that rejection is actually a good thing: it helps you learn and makes you stronger.”
What would you say to women and girls who are interested in engineering?
“Just do it! Fortunately, change is happening, and more women are getting into physics and engineering than in the past.
"Also, seek out mentors and sources of support. The Women in Engineering community at UMassD is a great example of how women in STEM can support each other. Women in Engineering is a residential living space in the first-year dorms that also provides academic support, social connections, professional development opportunities, and mentorship."
How has UMass Dartmouth prepared you for your future?
“The UMass Dartmouth academic experience alone has been fantastic. But I’ve also benefited from the support of my professors and the opportunities I’ve had outside the classroom.”
What advice do you have for current or future UMassD students?
"Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Professors and your fellow students can be a great source of support. Engineering students at UMassD are extremely collaborative and always willing to help if you need it.
"And, find out about scholarship opportunities. In 2021, I received the ACCOMPLISH Scholarship which is funded through the NSF. The focus of the scholarship is to integrate computation and data analysis into various STEM fields. Very few students on campus know about it, but it can have a huge financial impact for students who might need more financial aid."
What’s next for you?
"I plan to pursue a PhD in astronomy or astrophysics, pursue my own research, and one day become a professor. Astrophysicists grapple with fundamental questions about how we came to be, and I’m excited to contribute to that knowledge."