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Clay Hogan, astronomy Ph.D. student, says a fellowship is helping him "reach the stars."
From M, summer 2004
Clay Hogen knew since age two that he wanted to do something connected with astronomy. "My mother woke one night at 2 a.m. to find me playing with my toys. When she asked me why I was awake, I took her by the hand to the window, pointed to the sky, and asked what those little lights were. She told me they were stars and from that moment on, I was hooked," says Hogen. Still, it took Hogen, who is now the recipient of a Russell Penrose Fellowship in Astronomy, some time to find the right career path. "Being the first to attend college, my family couldn't offer much guidance or financial help," he says. "I worked as many as three jobs at once during my undergraduate years to avoid loans." Hogen graduated in 1999 with a major in physics and astrophysics and then joined the Peace Corps, where he taught physics to boarding school girls in Tanzania. "The experience changed my perspective on life and what's important. People there are centered on each other. It is considered rude not to greet absolutely everyone you pass," he says. During his more than two years in Africa, Hogen also gained a sense of personal direction and discovered his life's passion for teaching. He returned to Minnesota and applied to graduate school. Not only was he admitted, he was also offered a very prestigious fellowship. "I like to think of the fellowship as a ladder that is easing my way in reaching the stars, especially after traveling down a dimly lit but interesting path," he says. "Now, I can focus on my studies and my research, which centers on the ionized hydrogen clouds surrounding massive stars. For the first time my future looks bright and clear. I plan to finish the Ph.D. program in astronomy and then do research and teach at the college level."