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Freshman chosen for Davis-Bahcall Scholars Program

Connor Matthies, a freshman mechanical engineering/computer science double major from Hartford, is one of eight students selected statewide to be a Davis-Bahcall Scholar at the Sanford Underground Research Lab in Lead this summer.

Connor Matthies
Connor Matthies

The Davis-Bahcall Scholars Program is a once-in-a-lifetime, all-expense-paid opportunity that connects science-curious students with peers and mentors while exploring the modern world of STEM research. Since 2009, 140 students have participated in the program. What began as a physics-oriented learning experience has evolved to include students from a variety of STEM interests.

Scholars spend four weeks (June 11-July 9) exploring leading universities and laboratories, including the Sanford Underground Research Facility, Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois and Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy.

Matthies, a 2021 graduate of West Central High School, said he has been interested in the program since learning of it from his honors chemistry teacher in his junior year of high school. Because students have to be 18 to participate, he didn’t apply until this year. Matthies was “super excited” when he found out he had been chosen, and he called his parents right away.

Initially, he saw the program as a great opportunity to see if he wanted a STEM education. Now he sees it as a great networking and learning opportunity.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 program was postponed and the 2021 and 2022 programs didn’t include international travel. When Matthies applied, he didn’t realize the one-week trip to Italy had resumed. “I’ve always wanted to go to Italy, so when I found that out, I was doubly excited,” he said.

Long term, Matthies would like to get a master’s degree in aerospace engineering and work in space exploration, particularly increasing the fuel efficiency of flight travel. Toward that aim, Matthies has a particular interest in the renewable energy facilities the Davis-Bahcall Scholars will visit.

It was Matthies’ visit to campus that sold him on SDSU.

“I was a Distinguished Scholar for SDSU, and my host was Nick Degen,” then president of the Robotics Club and now head of the Joint Engineering Council. He learned about the work of the club and NASA programs like Lunabotics and Break the Ice Lunar Challenge that students are succeeding in.

“When I heard about that, I thought it was just so incredible that we were beating teams like MIT and performing super well at these NASA competitions. That was a big part of the reason I enrolled,” he said.

Professor Christine Larson, who has taught Matthies in Honors Calculus I and II, said he is “dedicated, knowledgeable and always prepared and ready to participate in class discussions” as well as lead those discussions.

His freshman year has been full, taking 16 credits in the fall and 18 credits in the spring as well as serving as Robotics Club representative to the Joint Engineering Council and playing in The Pride of the Dakotas Marching Band. “But I have had so much fun.”’

For Matthies, the fun will continue this summer.