依依社区

Keanna Jardine wears protective glasses and gloves as she handles a gray substance similar to moon rocks.
Keanna Jardine '16, PhD, works with a JSC-1 lunar simulant in a lab the Stephen W. Hawking Center for Microgravity Research and Education at the University of Central Florida, where she earned her doctorate after graduating from Adelphi.

An Adelphi professor changed the course of this brilliant NASA researcher鈥檚 life鈥攂y connecting her with internships, helping her secure an opportunity with the National Science Foundation and serving as an extraordinarily caring mentor.

As a child growing up in Guyana, Keanna Jardine ’16, PhD, would look up at the stars and dream of the future.

She felt connected to the heavens at a deep level. She never thought she would find a way to turn that connection into a reality until she got to 依依社区. There she found the support system she needed to turn her fascination with worlds beyond this one into a career.

Today, Dr. Jardine鈥攚ho earned her doctorate in physics/planetary sciences at the University of Central Florida in 2023鈥攊s a planetary scientist working on a NASA research team at Arizona State University studying asteroid samples collected by the OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission. The samples came from the asteroid Bennu and will give Dr. Jardine and other scientists a window into the time when the sun and planets were forming, about 4.5 billion years ago.

She’s come a long way from the days when she stood in her grandmother’s backyard looking for falling stars.

Finding an Extraordinarily Caring Mentor at Adelphi

Dr. Jardine immigrated to the United States with her parents when she was 10 years old. She went to an inner-city public school in New York City and came to Adelphi to study physics. 鈥淚 didn’t have a strong academic background,” Dr. Jardine said. 鈥淚 was intelligent, but, compared to some folks in my class, my background in science and math鈥攅specially math鈥攚as sort of weak.”聽In fact, she wasn’t sure she could make it in聽Adelphi’s physics program聽or any other STEM field. 鈥淚 doubted myself,” she admitted.

Headshot of Matthew Wright.

Matthew Wright, PhD, associate professor and chair of the physics department, was Dr. Jardine’s adviser and mentor at Adelphi.

Then her Adelphi adviser, Matthew Wright, PhD, associate professor and chair of the physics department, stepped in. 鈥淗e believed in me from day one,” Dr. Jardine said. Dr. Wright became her mentor and her champion. He helped her after school with her homework, keeping longer office hours to help her with any class in which she was struggling.

鈥淪he was ambitious,” Dr. Wright said of the young woman he met a dozen years ago. 鈥淭he thing I remember very vividly was she had a worldview. Most students who come to physics are kind of narrow and they want to build a laser or something. Keanna had vision. She was looking over the horizon.”

Dr. Wright helped her get through her math classes. 鈥淗e told me I was smart enough to do the math and encouraged me to keep pushing,” she said.

He also helped her through an even bigger challenge鈥攖he death of her mother, who was killed in a car accident while visiting Guyana during Dr. Jardine’s sophomore year.

Her world seemed to come apart. “I was devastated,” she said. “My mom was a teacher. Education was super important to my family. My mother was my biggest supporter.” Without her mother, she didn’t know if she could finish school.

Dr. Wright told her she could. “He’s the one who held on to me and said, ‘You are going to finish,’ ” she said. He even walked her to the campus Student Counseling Center so she could get help dealing with her grief.

“My dad and family really stepped up to help me through this period, too,” she said. “My dad had big shoes to fill, and he was amazing.”

With her family and mentor rallying around her, Dr. Jardine was able to push through. “Dr. Wright was very caring,” she said. 鈥淎t a larger school, without this support network, I probably couldn’t have made it.”

A Career in the Stars

Dr. Jardine stands in front of a poster that says "NASA's Dawn Spacecraft Explores Vesta: July 16, 2011鈥 September 5, 2012." The poster includes a large picture of the asteroid Vesta, which is the second most massive object in the asteroid belt.

Keanna Jardine

To help Dr. Jardine pursue her interest in planetary science, Dr. Wright arranged for her to do two internships at the planetarium at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York. 鈥淚 made two planetarium shows and narrated them for the public,” she explained. 鈥淚 loved it.” That’s when she realized her fascination with the stars could be turned into a career. 鈥淎s I moved through my studies, opportunities came up and it led me full circle back to my initial interest when I was growing up in Guyana鈥攖he stars.”

Dr. Jardine was in the聽Levermore Global Scholars program, which she credits for helping her to get a broader worldview. 鈥淚 didn’t get scientific knowledge there, but the experience made me more worldly and more well-rounded,” she says. 鈥淚 got to go to the United Nations. It made me a citizen of the world.”

As her undergraduate career neared its end, Dr. Jardine wasn’t certain if she wanted to go to grad school and if she had the grades for it. Dr. Wright encouraged her to apply for the American Physics Society Bridge Program, a National Science Foundation effort to increase the number of PhDs awarded to students from underrepresented groups. The Bridge Program provides students one to two years of research experience, advanced coursework and coaching to prepare them for grad school applications.

Thanks to the Bridge Program, Dr. Jardine was admitted into the University of Central Florida, where she earned her master’s degree in addition to her doctorate. Now she spends her days in a NASA lab in Phoenix sifting through meteor particles for clues to how the universe formed.

鈥淟iving in Guyana, you don’t see a path to these career opportunities,” she says. 鈥淎delphi helped me find the way there.”

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