I guess the best thing to do would be to start at the beginning. I was born in Silver Springs, Maryland; but we didn't stay there too long. A month later my Dad joined the State Department, and 18 months later he got his first assignment overseas. We followed him to Banjul, Gambia and that began my life overseas. Two years later, and every two years after-words, we moved to a new country. After Gambia we moved to Damascus, Syria and then Sana'a, Yemen. I went to school at American International schools until I was six, and then my Dad had me transferred to the British School in Yemen. There, I got a head start in math and science, and consequently was way ahead of my peers when I returned to the states in 1997. After six years overseas my parents, brother, and I moved to Fairfax, Virginia. I went to a public elementary school about a five minute bus ride from the house, and met some great teachers and friends that encouraged me to pursue my increasing interests in math and science. It was there that I began to realize that they were my strengths, and that if I played my cards right I would be able to take them where I wanted to go. I didn't know where exactly that was back then, but I had a few ideas. I tossed around the idea of becoming an archaeologist, but that came to a rapid end when my grandfather took me on a dig for kids and the coordinators told us that sometimes they went for weeks on end without finding a thing, and they were lucky if they found anything at all.

When I was 11 we packed our things, rented out the house in Virginia, and moved overseas again. This time it was to a very tiny island off the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia called Bahrain. I was convinced that I was going to hate it, but life there proved to be quite exciting. Living in the middle of a warzone tends to have that effect. One month after we landed on the island, the Twin Towers were hit and life as they knew it ended for many people. Luckily, with the exception of the occasional demonstration, and one period when school was shut down for two weeks because it was too dangerous to run the buses and drive, there wasn't too much trouble. I spent most of my time reading all that I could get my hands on. They were primarily fantasy and science fiction books; I was (and still am) fascinated by anything magical and paranormal. The librarian at school was constantly throwing books at me, encouraging me to try different authors and topics. She wasn't the only one though. My teachers in middle school were extremely supportive and always willing to listen to my ideas. One in particular, Ms. Karr, my seventh and eighth grade science teacher, was very influential. It was in her general science class that I was first really exposed to astronomy. Every day I would come home and chatter on and on about what I learned in class that day, and when I heard that I was the only one to get above a 100 percent on the test - well, that clinched it. I knew where I wanted to go.

I spent three years in Bahrain, but when I turned 14 and started 9th grade we moved back to the U.S. My Dad wanted to make sure that I was able to spend all four years in one high school and wouldn't have to move like he had had to when he was my age. I went to a public school (Robinson Secondary) and was immediately started on the honors track. I played violin in the full orchestra for all four years, joined the Crew (rowing) team for sophomore and junior year, played basketball, swam every summer, joined our school's first Science Olympiad team, and managed to complete an IB diploma. We didn't have AP classes, but I took Higher Level Physics, Math, and History my senior year. Higher Level math is essentially two courses - AP BC Calculus and a Pre-Linear algebra course (with some work in probability and statistics). I spent most of my high school years running through various activities and from place to place, but it was a great time.

Now, I'm glad to be at Stony Brook. It was my first choice since it has one of the best Astronomy and Physics programs available to me and isn't too far from home. Last semester I started out by taking Multivariable Calculus, Honors Physics (PHY 141), AST 100 (an intro astronomy course), along with a couple other non-STEM classes. This semester I've stepped things up a bit and am taking ALL STEM classes, with the exception of playing in the University Orchestra. My first real/math based Astronomy course, PHY 142, Geology: History of the Earth, Differential Equations, and this lab (WSE 187). I decided to try out the geology course as a test run since I'm considering a geology minor or possible double major. We'll see how it goes. For now, my goal is to better my skills in physics and astronomy. I can't wait to get started!

Shannon Hicks
February 2009