Amazing Students

Mackenzie Joy

Amazing Student Portrait of Mackenzie Joy.
Mackenzie Joy (Photo by Chad Osburn/UGA)

Goldwater Scholar Mackenzie Joy has been fascinated by space and the universe from a young age and has her sights set on a Ph.D. in theoretical cosmology. UGA has helped pave her road to a successful future.

Woodstock, GA

High school:
Sequoyah High School

Current employment:
Peer tutor at UGA Division of Academic Enhancement for math and physics

Expected graduation:
Spring 2020

Degree objective:
Physics and Astronomy, B.S.

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:
— Chambliss Award for Undergraduate Astronomy Research at American Astronomical Society annual meeting (2019)
— UGA Physics and Astronomy Award (2019)
— Linville L. Hendren Memorial Scholarship (2018)
— UGA Boulder Bash Climbing Competition 10th place (2018)
— Foundation Fellow Class of 2020
— National Merit Scholar
— Palladia Women’s Honors Society
— Presentation of astrophysics research at two CURO Symposiums and three conferences
— Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) position at UC Davis studying cosmology
— Co-executive director of the Lunchbox Garden Project
— Goldwater Scholar

I chose to attend UGA because …
The first time I came to UGA was in February 2016 when I was interviewing for the Foundation Fellowship. I had never really considered UGA my top choice of where to go for my undergraduate studies, but interacting with all the students who were so passionate about this school completely changed my mind. By the end of my two days in Athens, I knew this was the right school for me. The opportunities I’ve had to do research with astrophysicists, travel to conferences and study abroad have confirmed just how great of a decision I made.

My favorite things to do on campus are …
… lie in the grass of the Founders Garden, use the Physics Building’s roof telescope, walk around North Campus, study at a window desk in the Science Library.

When I have free time, I like …
… to watch documentaries, paint really terrible abstract paintings, and play Overcooked. I also require a ton of sleep so I’m often napping.

The craziest thing I’ve done is …
… convince a group of four girls at an internship to go skydiving with me! It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, and I honestly can’t say if I would do it again. The adrenaline was amazing though.

My favorite place to study is …
… the comfy chairs at the front of the Main Library reading room that look out over North Campus. It’s best when the sun is starting to set but it’s still light enough to see out. The view is distracting enough that I don’t get stressed, but not too distracting that I get nothing done.

My favorite professor is … 
… Loris Magnani. Dr. Magnani was my intro astronomy professor and has since been my professor for four more upper level physics and astronomy classes. I also researched with him for two years, analyzing spectral data from the interstellar medium. Dr. Magnani introduced me to the field of astrophysics and taught me how interesting and meaningful classes can be when you stop focusing solely on tests and grades and start trying to relate material to the things you observe every day. He’s probably the most well-read person I have ever met, and I love talking to him about basically any topic. He’s also hilarious and has a real affinity for dog memes, as anyone who visits his office can tell.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with …
… Stephen Hawking. Reading “A Brief History of Time” when I was younger was what sparked my interest in physics, and I would love to spend time with such an impactful and intelligent person. Being able to write a book that explains super complicated phenomena at a level that a middle schooler can understand takes an incredible amount of talent, and I wish I had gotten to meet him before he died last year.

If I knew I could not fail, I would …
… convince the U.S. government to place massive restrictions on companies that negatively impact the environment. Climate change is going to cause a lot of damage to the planet and individual actions only add up to so much. We need the huge oil and other corporations that lobby Congress to start paying for the damage they’ve done to the environment and working to reduce the effects of climate change.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to …
… be the first commercial space traveler, as long as Elon Musk does not profit at all. I have yet to give up my childhood dream of someday going to space, but becoming an astronaut is a super selective process that doesn’t work out for most people. If I could, I’d go to space today. I want to see how massive the Earth is and how tiny it looks in comparison to the vastness of space.

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?
I’ve been passionate about learning how and why the universe exists the way it does since I first learned about space. I want to learn as much as I possibly can in my lifetime to hopefully contribute to the theories being written about the beginnings and eventual end of the universe. This passion is why I’m pursuing a degree in astrophysics, but through my time at UGA I’ve discovered another passion that I hope to develop more. Working with elementary students as part of the Lunchbox Garden Project has revealed to me my love of teaching and working with kids. In my future I hope to work in a position that provides opportunities for me to inspire young kids, especially girls, to maintain their curiosities and pursue STEM fields.

After graduation, I plan to …
… go to grad school and earn a Ph.D. in theoretical cosmology. After that I’ll hopefully land some postdocs, become a professor, and teach college classes while working on my own research. Once I retire from my professorship I’ll probably become a small-scale beekeeper.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be …
… ringing the bell for the first (and only) time! I rang the bell after I wrote my first successful code. Coding was something that seemed so unapproachable to me because I didn’t have any exposure to it in high school. Freshman year I took a class on Python and wrote a super simple code to roll a couple of dice and print out the results, but that was honestly one of my proudest moments.