While most undergraduate students do not have opportunities to conduct research alongside faculty members and present their findings at a conference, Kathleen Hamilton-Campos did both—as a freshman at Howard Community College (HCC).
Since then, she has engaged in multiple research opportunities and even had research published while working toward dual bachelor’s degrees in astronomy and physics from the University of Maryland. She is set to graduate in spring 2021.
“I love HCC and had such a great experience there,” Hamilton-Campos says. “It definitely set me on the path I wanted to be on. My parents have both jokingly said, ‘I can’t believe that you’ve already done research for years, been to conferences, and had your work published four times. You realize you’re not a grad student yet, right?’” She adds: “I couldn’t have done any of it without HCC.”
Hamilton-Campos first got acquainted with HCC as a middle schooler in the Kids on Campus program. After graduating from high school, she worked full time at a meal preparation store and began taking part-time online classes at HCC, including an astronomy course.
When the store unexpectedly closed, Hamilton-Campos decided to enroll as a full-time student. “Because the cost is so much less at HCC than a traditional four-year college, it was affordable, and I was able to get enough scholarships to cover it,” she says.
Upon the recommendation of her astronomy professor, Hamilton-Campos secured an opportunity to assist her physics professor with research on dark matter. The following semester, she attended a conference in California on behalf of HCC to present the findings.
During her time at HCC, Hamilton-Campos participated in a STEM honors program and in multiple research projects and presentations, including one that won an honorable mention award at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.
“I was incredibly fortunate,” she says. “This would be unheard of at many four-year institutions.”
Her experiences fueled a passion for astronomy. She graduated from HCC with associate degrees in physical sciences and mathematics in December 2017 and transitioned to the University of Maryland, where all of her credits transferred and made it possible to double major.
“I’ve always loved astronomy,” she says. “I love the fact that we only understand 4 percent of the universe, and I’m very drawn to trying to understand the other 96 percent.”
While some of her fellow physics-major classmates struggled with math courses, Hamilton-Campos says the solid foundation she gained through HCC’s math department helped her quickly grasp the content and perform better than many of her peers at the four-year university.
“I was so incredibly prepared for these classes because I had taken linear algebra and differential equations at HCC,” she says. “I thought, ‘Wow, I’m actually a little better prepared than my classmates.’”
Since her first project, Hamilton-Campos has continued conducting research on dark matter, particle physics, and galaxy evolution through opportunities on campus and at the Space Telescope Science Institute. She hopes to further her studies and earn a Ph.D. in astronomy and physics. Thanks to HCC, she says, she is well-positioned to achieve her goals.
“HCC has been instrumental in helping me get where I am today,” she says. For students considering their higher education path, she advises: “Community college is the most cost-effective way to start. If you know what you want to do, then you can dive right in and get amazing opportunities. And if you don’t know what you want to do, you have a myriad of opportunities for trying out what you want.”
Wherever you want to go, you can get there from here.