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Latino Initiative Program Welcomes 2021 Summer Interns

Image of intern Naomi Aponte

Seven undergraduates have been awarded summer internships at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA) through the Latino Initiative Program.  

This year, 25 undergraduates applied to participate in the program, which immerses students in an astronomy research project for three months and provides extensive mentorship opportunities. Students complete 35 hours of work per week and are paid for their time thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The program is the brainchild of Christine Crowley, a fellowship program coordinator, who established the annual internship in 2015 in partnership with the Urban Massachusetts Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (UMLSAMP) program. 

Interns are selected for their strong applications and through a formal interview process with potential CfA mentors. All interns must also be members of the UMLSAMP program, which is located on all four campuses of the University of Massachusetts (UMASS). 

"Unfortunately, there are not a lot of underrepresented students in STEM, particularly in astrophysics or astronomy; consequently, we invest a significant amount of time each year in advertising the program locally,” Crowley says. “Identifying and recruiting highly talented STEM majors requires ongoing collaboration with faculty, staff and student leaders.”

But the effort is worth it.

“This program changes lives,” Crowley says. “It helps widen students’ perspectives and possible career paths, provides them with a sense of belonging and boosts their confidence. At a personal level, it is very satisfying to help young members of our community achieve their full potential.”

Since its establishment in 2015, 27 students have completed the Latino Initiative Program. Meet the newest cohort of students, who began their internships on Monday, June 7, below.

Image of intern Kira Aponte
Advisor(s): Robert Hargreaves
School: University of Massachusetts – Lowell
Nuclear engineering major Kira Cote will work with the HITRAN and HITEMP databases, which are managed by scientists at the CfA, during her internship. The databases are used by astronomers around the globe to help identify molecules in space. Cote will analyze current spectroscopic data to ensure it can be validated and reproduced in observations. An honors student who is writing a book in her free time, Cote hopes to design nuclear reactors after graduating.



Image of intern Steve Espinoza Diaz
Advisor(s): Feng Long
School: University of Massachusetts – Lowell
Originally from Washington, D.C., Steve Espinoza Diaz is fluent in both English and Spanish. The physics major will work in the Radio and Geoastronomy Division studying properties of dust disk rings and how they affect the planet formation process. Diaz is looking forward to learning about the scientific research process during the internship, as well as gaining new science mentors.


Image of intern Miranda Harkess
Advisor(s): Joseph Hora
School: University of Massachusetts – Boston
Miranda Harkess, a physics major and math minor, will study the star formation process in the outer regions of our Milky Way galaxy. She will specifically study the infrared spectroscopy of young stars to understand their physical properties. In her free time, Harkess enjoys playing tennis professionally; she won the City of Boston’s Mayor’s Cup Tennis Tournament four times prior to enrolling in college. Harkess hopes to study medical physics as a graduate student after earning her bachelor’s degree.


Image of intern Rachel Nere
Advisor(s): Rodolfo Montez, Jr.
School: University of Massachusetts – Boston
Aspiring physicist Rachel Nere is passionate about astronomy and excited to collaborate with astronomers this summer. She will specifically study evolved stars and the processes that impact the end of a star’s life. Nere is member of the National Society of Black Engineers. She previously interned with the Boeing Company as an electromagnetic effects intern. Nere plans to obtain a graduate degree in physics after completing college.


Image of intern Wasiim Ouro-sama
Advisor(s): Eric Koch
School: University of Massachusetts – Lowell
Computer science major Wasiim Ouro-sama will work on modeling the 3D structure of dwarf galaxies in hopes of better understanding atomic outflows — outflows of energy that extend from the core of many galaxies. In his free time, Ouro-sama enjoys reading, programming and listening to music. He also serves as a computer science tutor. Ouro-sama is looking forward to exploring the intersection of data science and physics during his summer internship.


Image of Keysha Rosado
Advisor(s): Gonzalo Gonzalez and Caroline Nowlin
School: University of Massachusetts – Lowell
Former intern Keysha Rosado will return this summer to the CfA to study pollution in the Earth’s atmosphere. A senior biology major, Rosado will use remote sensing data to analyze the uneven distribution of air pollution within U.S. cities. Rosado will also serve as peer mentor to new CfA interns, sharing guidance from her first experience as an intern studying polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons with Jessie Porterfield. After graduation, Rosado hopes to become a research assistant in a laboratory for genetic analysis.


Image of intern Naomi Aponte
Advisor(s): Rachel Cochrane
School: University of Massachusetts - Lowell
Environmental engineering major Naomi Aponte spent the past semester conducting research on COVID-19 and how epidemiologists can track the infection through wastewater. Now, she’ll shift gears and study astronomy, digging into the methodology astronomers currently use to observe galaxies. Using Python, a programming tool Aponte is eager to learn this summer, she will help refine current observational methodology to help astronomers make more reliable and accurate interpretations of data from galaxies.