Senior Spotlight: Neal Pisenti

For Harvey Mudd senior Neal Pisenti, a career in academia seems like the right fit. Though the thought of leaving college in less than a semester is “slightly frightening” for him, he may not have to leave college after all—in fact, he is thinking of becoming a professor.

“Being a professor at Mudd would be a lot of fun,” Pisenti said, although he admits that he could end up at any institution. He says that living in southern California isn’t appealing in the long term, but he likes the idea of living in the Pacific Northwest, where he grew up. As a Physics major at Mudd, Pisenti has been conducting extensive research with professors since his sophomore year, and he knew he wanted to pursue physics from a very young age.

Right now, he is hearing back from graduate school programs, and plans to pursue a Ph.D in physics. Specifically, he plans to study Atomic Molecular Optical Physics, which is fancy talk for “looking at the behavior of really, really small particles.” What really excites him about his research is work with quantum computers, which are able to translate and store information much faster than traditional computers.

But before Pisenti embarks on his four-to-six year graduate education saga of studying all things small and atomic, he plans to help create a non-profit education center in Mali. Next year, Pisenti will take a year off before starting graduate school in order to travel to Mali with his girlfriend, Scripps senior Sarah Smilkstein, where he will help set up a small lending library and school within the capital of Bamako. He will leave sometime this September and be away in Africa for a full academic year, just in time to attend graduate school the following year.

And Mali will be an adventure. Pisenti is unsure as to the exact nature of his work there, but hopes to be able to do something related to technology and education, perhaps assisting in teaching classes. The goal is to develop a self-sustaining education center.

“Their education is stuck in the colonial 18th-century model of rote memorization, and so it would be really meaningful to introduce some interactive teaching methods,” Pisenti said.

Reflecting on his fast-approaching graduation, Pisenti said, “These four years have gone by really fast.” Yet it seems the pace won’t let up any time soon: Not only does he have an African adventure to look forward to, but he and Smilkstein are planning on getting married when they return from Africa.

Ultimately, he said, “I’m confident things will work out one way or another.”

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