Alumni Board Scholar Profile: Q&A with 2016 Scholar Will Holtzmann

Alumni Board Scholar Profile: Q&A with 2016 Scholar Will Holtzmann

Boettcher Scholar Year: 2016

Hometown: Parker

University & Degrees: University of Denver — BS in Physics with minors in International Relations, Math, Leadership Studies, and Chinese



What are you currently interested in pursuing after graduating?

After graduating, I plan to pursue a PhD in physics. This will entail two years of classes and up to four additional years in a lab. Ideally, my research will focus on light/matter interactions or quantum information.


Tell us about the activities, groups and/or organizations you have joined in college and why you joined them.

  • The Society of Physics Students (SPS) focuses on outreach to K-12 students, providing physics demos and encouraging students to engage with science. We try to provide exciting science-based experiences for students in order to combat the common view that science is boring.
  • The Pioneer Leadership Program (PLP) is a strong, interdisciplinary community of good people I could relate to and have conversations with.
  • The Honors Program is full of good people and provides interesting course offerings. Through the Honors Program, I took writing and science courses in addition to a few electives and seminars. These were some of my favorite undergraduate courses.
  • I have worked in the same physics research lab since midway through my freshman year, which has been an excellent source of continuity throughout my time in college.


Tell us about an important mentor you have had.  

I met Dr. Mark Stephens while touring DU as a high school student – he showed me his physics lab, and I was immediately enamored. Dr. Stephens invited me to start working in his physics lab right away as a freshman. I was taken aback by the experience, and it completely changed my career aspirations. Dr. Stephens also serves as the SPS advisor. In that role, he has taught me about science education and outreach.

Providing further guidance, Dr. Stephens referred me to a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, and it was recently awarded to me. This fellowship will fund the first 3 years of my PhD classes and research. Dr. Stephens often reminds students of their “vast spare time,” inspiring us to take advantage of the opportunities which surround us.


What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?  

When I was struggling to choose between attending DU and CU, Cam Hickert, Boettcher and DU alumnus, said “Wherever you go, the physics will be the same.” This helped me see that the people I worked with would have a far bigger impact on my academic experiences than the physics itself. As I choose between graduate schools, this same advice drives my decisions.


If you could have dinner with one person or a few people from history, who would you choose and why?

 J Robert Oppenheimer, director of Manhattan Project, would be interesting dinner company. His pure interest in physics drove his studies, yet his work was entangled with numerous political and ethical issues. I would ask him about how he navigated these issues. Additionally, I’d ask about the impact physics, the Manhattan Project, and the bomb’s destructive effects had on him.


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