Elizabethtown truly offers a global education. Today, my goals are much broader because of my experiences here.
At 6 years old, Gavin Spadin ’11 was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
During his initial evaluation, the psychologist posed a series of situational questions. At one point, the doctor asked, “So it’s raining outside, but you want to go out and play. What do you do?” With only a split second of hesitation, a very young Gavin responded with just two words: “Get wet.”
Those two words capture the zeal with which the now adult Gavin approaches life. He explores the world around him with a hearty appetite and sense of adventure. For Gavin, Elizabethtown’s Masters Center for Science, Mathematics and Engineering is the door that opens to a world filled with topics to explore and new information to learn.
“I find the natural world fascinating,” he reflects. “And, if it’s studied in the Masters Center, I’m interested.
“I enrolled at Elizabethtown as an engineering student. During my first semester, I found that I enjoyed pure science more than the application. I made the decision to switch to physics—a decision that’s been reaffirmed over and over again,” he explains. The flexibility of Elizabeth-town’s physics major allowed Gavin to explore other disciplines in the Masters Center’s halls. When he graduates in May 2011, he will have completed minors in both mathematics and biology. “If I only had more time, I would have gotten a chemistry minor too,” he notes with regret.
His fondest College memories are of his experiences with the community of science majors who forged their relationships during hours and hours of late-night studying in Esbenshade Hall. “During peak hours, from 8 until 10 p.m. on weeknights, the classroom was full,” he recalls. “The semester I took organic chemistry, dynamics and discrete mathematics, I was there eight hours a day, every day.”
During his four years, Gavin’s community has expanded far beyond the Masters Center as he’s ventured to study experiences around the world.
In summer 2009, he was involved in cutting-edge research in nuclear physics at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, one of the most prestigious laboratories in the United States. During the internship, he supported a project that studied quarks, a fundamental particle of matter, by bombarding a Helium-3 target with the accelerator’s electron beam.
“Just as light bends through glass, so do electron beams,” explains Gavin. “For our calculations to be accurate, it was important to know the exact thickness of the glass in which the Helium-3 is contained.” So, for 12 hours a day, he completed detailed measurements using an infrared laser and computational software to calculate the thickness down to the nanometer.
This semester, Gavin’s sense of adventure has led him to Africa, where he is taking classes at the University of The Gambia while developing applications for renewable energy technologies for remote communities alongside Associate Professor Kurt DeGoede.
Motivating him in this new quest is not only his lifelong enthusiasm for learning, but also a newfound faith in God, which he credits to his fiancée, Kathryn, whom he met while studying marine conservation in summer 2008 through the School for Field Studies on the Turks and Caicos Islands. “My Christianity has changed my outlook and is helping me to focus outward instead of inward,” he reflects. “I’m really enjoying using my knowledge to help people with their everyday lives.”
As his collegiate education nears completion, Gavin’s looking for the next frontier to explore—a journey that may lead him farther than all but a few have traveled. “I see space as the ultimate adventure,” he explains of his interest in applying to NASA. “It’s definitely something very few people get to experience. And, it’s a totally different setting for all sciences—providing an environment that we can’t simulate here on earth … at least not very well.”
Preparing Gavin for this quest is not only all the knowledge he’s gained at Elizabethtown College, but the perspective he developed about the world around us. “Elizabethtown truly offers a global education,” he explains. “Today, my goals are much broader because of my experiences here.”