Savannah Perez reaches for the stars

Written by: Brooke Cary

Savannah Perez is a Riverside City College Honors student pursuing her degree in Astrophysics.

Fascinated by science and physics, Perez, 19, began pursuing Astrophysics after visiting a summer astronomy camp two summers ago, where she realized her passion for the field.

Although Perez has always been fascinated by the stars, she always thought of astronomy as more of a hobby.

“I’m pretty much a newbie in this major compared to everybody else in the astronomy club, Perez said. “For me, it’s really new but it’s really exciting too.”

During high school, Perez was part of the ROTC program and had planned on going into the U.S. Air Force. Perez moved up the leadership ladder and was promoted to Wing Commander, but she realized it was not her passion.

“The people were nice, but it just wasn’t fun,” she said.

Perez then found about Astrocamp from her brother-in-law who works there.

“It’s an astronomy-based camp for ages 5 to 17,” she added. “The instructors there are really into it and it was such a great community.  I had always loved astronomy and physics, I just never had thought of combining them together.”

After camp, Perez decided to get more involved. She joined the astronomy club her first semester at RCC and recently started an astronomy book club, which began reading astronomy-related science fiction books over this past summer.

Honors classes have been helpful to Perez in giving her a smaller, collaborative classroom experience.

Perez, along with two other members of the astronomy club were recently accepted into the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program. NCAS is a community college program for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math-driven students.

Accepted students take a five week online class, interacting with NASA engineers and finish the class by submitting a Mars rover proposal.

“Over the five weeks we have a proposal we start working on and start building ideas,” Perez said, “Ideas about what the rover would look like, what it’s functions would be and it’s purpose on Mars. And if we get accepted, we get to go to a NASA base that they choose.”

Perez and two other RCC students were selected among the applicants to visit a NASA base, where they will attend a three-day camp in November.

During high school, Perez was inspired by her Physics teacher, whose passion for science and physics rubbed off on her. 

“When somebody else is passionate about something, you become super passionate about it and you feel more connected to the science itself,” she said, “I guess the excitement in high school just carried on to here and now I want to do everything.”

In the summer of 2016, Perez hopes to live and work at Astrocamp where she can pick the brains of expert scientists and work with the kids who come to camp.

After finishing her Associate’s degree at RCC, Perez hopes to complete her Undergraduate and Graduate studies at the University of Hawaii and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Though talking to accredited astrophysicists can be intimidating, Perez has been both encouraged and challenged by her astronomy instructors to be creative and to work through the obstacles in front of her, learning from mistakes when they are made. “With NASA, if a mission goes wrong, the next mission won’t be like that,” Perez said.

“They strive to work on the problems that they have and learn from it and grow from it … even if you aren’t doing well, you can always make it better. You can always go back, work the problem and find a solution.”