From Belleville, Illinois, August Schwoebel’s journey at Missouri State University has been a special one.
Graduating this spring, he remembers all he has learned, gained and accomplished as a student in the College of Natural and Applied Sciences (CNAS).
“Schwoebel is the epitome of a naturally talented and bright student who does not rest on their laurels, pushes themselves to do difficult things and works as hard as anyone,” said Dr. Gary Meints, MSU associate professor of chemistry and one of Schwoebel’s advisers.
A rewarding path
But he did not originally plan for that combination.
“When I first came to MSU, I had no idea what I wanted to do,” Schwoebel said. “I loved physics and chemistry in high school, but I couldn’t decide which to pursue as a career.”
This led to him being undeclared while taking introductory courses in both fields.
Then, Schwoebel discovered the opportunity of dual majoring.
“I realized the only thing stopping me from pursuing a double major was the fear of trying and ultimately failing,” he said.
Describing the pursuit as both a handful and a mouthful, Schwoebel said he gained a new perspective on what it means to be an undergraduate student.
“In my mind, working toward a bachelor’s degree isn’t about becoming an expert in your field by the time you graduate, it’s about acquiring the tools you’ll need to become an expert later in life with time and experience,” he added. “With that perspective, why not try to build up the best ‘toolbox’ you can?”
This mindset was received well.
“Physics and chemistry are both difficult, dense and time-consuming majors,” Meints said. “Double majoring in these fields is almost unheard of, and being successful in either of these alone is a significant accomplishment.”
This mentality brought Schwoebel to where he is today, with the journey including some stellar achievements and opportunities.
Working with NASA
Since June 2021, Schwoebel has been an intern with the NASA Missouri Space Consortium.
The consortium is an internship that gives CNAS students opportunities to participate in NASA-funded research.
“As an intern for the program, I researched with Dr. Ridwan Sakidja [professor of physics, astronomy and materials science (PAMS)] in attempt to employ machine learning in the analysis of microstructural failures in materials,” Schwoebel said. “It was an interesting opportunity to learn more about computational research and scientific applications of machine learning. This experience has shaped my interests in research today.”
His research focus has changed since his internship, with his current project being funded by the NASA Space Grant Project.
“Since August 2022, I’ve been working on experimental condensed matter research with Dr. Tiglet Besara [assistant professor of PAMS] as part of the same program,” Schwoebel said. “My experiences with both Besara’s group and the consortium have impacted my goals as an upcoming condensed matter physicist. I strongly believe this internship is an opportunity more students should participate in.”
Schwoebel doesn’t plan to stop reaching for the stars. This fall he’ll start a PhD in experimental condensed matter physics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC).
“UIUC has a highly reputable condensed matter program, so I’m very excited to see how I can contribute to the research and community of physicists there,” he said.
He is thankful for his learning opportunities in CNAS and feels well prepared to take the next step.
“The physics and chemistry degree programs have taught me many skills that will help me to be successful as a professional and individual,” Schwoebel said. “Beyond the technical knowledge the curriculum is designed to teach, I feel the opportunities offered by CNAS to explore research and industry experiences have driven me to become more confident as a student and scientist.”
Schwoebel will never forget the community he belonged to.
“In the PAMS community especially, it feels like everybody knows each other,” he said. “This sense of camaraderie makes all the struggles of a tough STEM degree feel far more bearable, and I’m so grateful to the community we’ve built for it.”
The guidance he received along the way will stay with him forever.
“I would like to thank my academic advisors Dr. Robert Mayanovic and Dr. Gary Meints for all their help in making my academic goals an achievable reality,” Schwoebel said. “I would also like to extend deep gratitude to Dr. Besara for his guidance as my research advisor and all the opportunities I’ve been provided as part of his group.”
“Schwoebel is an outstanding student who excelled in his physics studies,” Mayanovic said. “Completing a dual degree of the physics and chemistry program is a challenging task. August’s determination and willingness to work with his advisors enabled him to meet this challenge.”
Schwoebel also can’t forget those who have become dear to him.
“I would be amiss if I didn’t especially thank my friends and colleagues in the PAMS Department. I’ve never met such a uniquely awesome group of people as them, and I’ll always be grateful for the struggles, jokes and overall amazing times we’ve shared.”
Advice for CNAS students
Schwoebel advises future and current CNAS students to realize their full potential as early as possible.
“If you have the time and means to do more without inhibiting your mental health or healthy work-life balance, then try to do more,” he said. “I saw my time at MSU as a chance to add many ‘tools’ to my ‘toolbox,’ and I think it was the best professional choice I’ve ever made.”
Aside from academics, Schwoebel encourages students to prioritize making meaningful connections.
“The people you meet on this campus could end up being in your life forever or just supporting roles in this chapter of your life’s story,” he said. “Don’t wait to meet them and don’t wait to start making memories.”