"As a child, I liked to watch space documentaries and shows about the history of the universe. I remember questioning why things are the way they are; I was always trying to figure out how things work," said Tre Willingham, a member of Compton College's 2021 graduating class. "There are not many people of color in the physics field and I want to break that barrier."
The former Compton College STEM Club president graduated with multiple associate of science degrees in spring of 2021 and will continue his studies as a physics major at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona this fall. He is interested in particle physics, optics, and electromagnetic applications which may lead him to pursue a career as a research physicist and inventor. "I'm motivated by things that challenge me," said Willingham. "The detail involved in physics is what attracted me to this field. For me, it's all about the details. I observe everything, even the smallest details. It's important to leave no stone unturned."
Willingham was recently accepted into the prestigious Cal-Bridge Scholar program at Cal Poly Pomona, which creates opportunities for students of color to participate and advance in STEM fields by offering a clear path from community college to PhD. Cal-Bridge was started at Cal Poly Pomona in 2014 with the goal of increasing the number of underrepresented minorities earning PhDs in physics and astronomy. Cal-Bridge Scholars benefit from financial support up to $10,000 per year, intensive, joint mentoring by university faculty, professional development workshops, and exposure to a wide variety of research opportunities.
After graduating from high school in Littleton, Colorado, he went through a "rough spot," put his education on hold, and tried to make ends meet by working a lot of odd jobs from 2012-2017. After moving to California, he enrolled at Compton College and began to find his career path through his proficiency in mathematics. "Mathematics helped me realize that I needed to take physics because through scientific modeling you can discover why and how things happen."
Willingham exudes excitement when he talks about the physics projects he has worked on as a member of the Compton College STEM Club. The college's STEM Center and club provide support to students who are majoring in mathematics, physics, engineering, biology and physical sciences so they can excel academically and transfer to four-year universities. Students in the STEM Club have the opportunity to get hands-on experience with science and engineering projects throughout the academic year.
Willingham is grateful for the number of learning opportunities and hands-on experiences available at Compton College that supplement classroom instruction. He also worked on campus as a peer tutor helping other students with all levels of mathematics and physics. Working on campus helped him to better balance his need to earn money with the demands of his studies.
"My academic accomplishments have not been a singular effort," said Willingham. "I've had a lot of support from key people in my life including my academic counselor, physics professor, and STEM Center program specialist at Compton College. They have all played a role in my success."