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Kaitlyn Bowser ’22

For Kaitlyn Bowser '22, applying physics to solve problems is way more fascinating than theoretical physics. Which is why she's now interning with Lockheed Martin and pursuing her master's in Applied Physics at the University of Oregon. From growing photonic crystals for her Physics capstone to taking courses with professors Jeff Marx and Apollo Mian, even as an undergrad she was well on her way to becoming an optical engineer.

Photo of alum Kaitlyn Bowser standing outside.

“If you look at something working and have wondered why … it’s physics. There’s no other way to put it,” says Kaitlyn Bowser ’22, a Physics major who is now in the second half of her master’s degree program in Applied Physics, putting her on a path to a career as an optical engineer.

It’s a passion Bowser has had since high school, though it was a meet-and-greet with the McDaniel College Physics department that convinced her to declare it as her major. “When I was touring colleges, I was between Chemistry and Physics,” she says. “I was intending to go into material science, and I think I could have done that with either major.”

When she toured the Chemistry department, she noticed that a lot of the incoming students seemed to be a pre-pharmaceutical route, but that wasn’t her dream. “Dr. Jeff Marx is the one that convinced me to go into Physics,” she says. “I just felt more of a kindred spirit in Physics; it was a very welcoming environment.”

Marx continued to be a mentor and guidepost for Bowser throughout the next four years, and he even led her to her graduate program at University of Oregon. Bowser says that the courses she took with Marx and Professor Apollo Mian prepared her extremely well for her master’s program.

“My master’s degree is in Applied Physics and I am on track to be an optical engineer,” Bowser says. “I’ve always been interested more in the applied physics than in theory or academia, but my capstone with Dr. Mian really set me up for success in the industry.”

Photo of alum Kaitlyn Bowser in her graduation regalia holding a certificate for the Argonaut Award.

Bowser receiving the Argonaut Award at the 2022 Commencement for the highest cumulative grade-point average. She also earned The Maria Leonard Senior Book Award and The Eloise B. and Lowell S. Ensor Award for Graduate or Professional Study.

Bowser says that after moving across the country right after graduation in May 2022, she found herself thankful for the ways that her professors went above and beyond in their curricula.

“I remember specifically that Dr. Marx at one point in Quantum Mechanics said, ‘OK, this is where a traditional undergraduate class would stop, but we’re going to push it a little bit further,’” she says. “Thank goodness he did. Because it was brought up in that master’s-level class and because I’d already somewhat seen the material, it made learning it again so much faster and easier.”

When interviewing for internships and job opportunities, she has been able to point to the ways her undergraduate degree have prepared her for industry.

“My capstone’s hands-on research growing photonic crystals has helped me articulate my experience with system engineering,” she says. “We were putting together a bunch of different pieces, looking at the status of each piece, and making sure they were going to do what we wanted. Explaining that — how I was able to take a previous design or a system and make changes to it to make it work for what we needed — has been valuable.”

Her capstone, "Creating and Characterizing Photonic Crystals," earned the Edith Farr Ridington Writing Award for the best senior paper.

That experience helped solidify her worldview and her career goals. Now in the second half of her one-year degree program, Bowser is completing an internship with Lockheed Martin.

“We build lasers, but not only am I learning optics, I’m also learning a little bit about electronics and circuit boards and plumbing, because we have to water-cool systems,” she says. “It’s just a very well-rounded experience, much like my time at McDaniel was.

“I still use a lot of the critical thinking and different thought processes I learned in my liberal arts education at McDaniel. I view the world as a puzzle and physics helps solve it,” Bowser says. “I like being able to answer why, and I enjoy the process of designing a system, changing one little thing, and watching the cascading effects and trying to decide where to go from there.”

About Kaitlyn

Career: Applied Physics graduate student; future optical engineer

Class: 2022

Major: Physics

Minor: Mathematics