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College of Liberal Arts
University of Mississippi

2022 Advancing STEM Scholarship Recipient

Lorena Magaña Zertuche, a Ph.D. student in physics, has been selected as the 2022 Advancing STEM Scholarship recipient

Lorena Magaña Zertuche, a Ph.D. student in physics, has been selected as the 2022 Advancing STEM Scholarship recipient


In fall of 2021, the Graduate School launched a new scholarship opportunity, the Advancing STEM Scholarship. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. This scholarship focuses on students whose background, achievements, and expertise demonstrate a commitment to contributing to the advancement of women in STEM, regardless of the recipient’s gender identity. Lorena Magaña Zertuche, a Ph.D. student in physics, has been selected as the 2022 Advancing STEM Scholarship recipient.

“I am extremely grateful for the support of the Graduate School in awarding me this scholarship,” said Magaña Zertuche. “The fact that an Advancing STEM Scholarship exists shows that the university and the graduate school are making a serious effort to address the lack of representation of women in STEM fields and it feels rewarding to know that as a graduate student, I can make a difference.”

Dr. Cecille Labuda, an associate professor in the department of physics and astronomy nominated Magaña Zertuche.

Dr. Cecille Labuda, associate professor of physics and astronomy

Dr. Cecille Labuda, associate professor of physics and astronomy

“Lorena has demonstrated a clear commitment to advancing and promoting women in STEM for many years,” said Labuda, “she cares about this deeply and the efforts she has made to promote women in STEM are commendable.”

Regarding research, Magaña Zertuche works on gravitational wave physics. In the past year, she visited UCLA for a three-month-long program. Some of the research she conducted there resulted in a recent publication in the journal Physical Review D. The title of the paper is High Precision Ringdown Modeling: Multimode Fits and BMS Frames.

For the 2022-2023 year, Magaña Zertuche was especially excited about two further projects. One of these involves building a ringdown surrogate model for binary black holes systems. The other aims to decrease the errors in parameter estimation for binaries which include black holes and neutron stars.

Magaña Zertuche said she always looks for ways to increase diversity in STEM, especially in physics. Physics, according to the American Physics Society, is one of the fields that awards the least number of degrees to women.

“I hope to continue promoting women in STEM by shining a spotlight on them–it is important to discuss the greater contributions women have made in the science, as they are often ignored or underappreciated,” said Magaña Zertuche.

A hope for Labuda is that there will come a time when efforts are no longer necessary, meaning a time when women who would like to enter STEM professions do so as easily as they would any other profession.

As an undergraduate, Magaña Zertuche remembers looking up to the few women graduate students and tries to make herself visible in the research community because it makes a difference for others to see someone like them, particularly higher up in academia.

Another significant focus for Magaña Zertuche is outreach. The first aspect of her outreach is the Oxford Science Café, where a UM faculty member is invited to Heartbreak Coffee on the Square once a month to speak with the community about their research. The Oxford Science Café aims to bring science to everyone in the community. Another component of Magaña Zertuche’s outreach is creating information booklets on physics lessons to better prepare high school teachers in the classroom. These booklets include hands-on activities that the teachers may use to help guide their students toward a better understanding of key concepts in physics. The NASA/Mississippi Space Grant Consortium (MSSGC) Fellowship provides support for the booklet outreach project.

“Apart from enjoying the interactions I have during outreach events, I hope that my presence demonstrates to young kids that women, too, can aspire to be scientists,” Magaña Zertuche continued, “I didn’t have a female role model in physics until I was an undergraduate, and I hope that in the next few years representation of women in STEM is high enough that incoming students can say they always had one.”

Promoting the advancement of women in STEM is a never-ending endeavor. The UM Graduate School launched a Graduate Women in STEM affinity group, which has now become the Association of Graduate Women in STEM (AGWiS). AGWiS is a registered student organization whose purpose is to promote networking and mentoring among graduate women and members of LBGTQIA+ community across all STEM disciplines. Their events and programming aim to foster a sense of community between these graduate students where discussions about career choices, school life, grant and fellowship opportunities, and much more can occur.