Joel Cortez, Cal State San Bernardino Physics Senior

Cal State San Bernardino Physics Senior: Reflecting on the Past, the Present, and the Future

Monica Alarcon


Joel Cortez, Cal State San Bernardino Physics Senior

​​​​​​Joel Cortez was born in Hermosillo Sonora, Mexico, and migrated to the United States with his parents when he was one year old. His parents, Brenda Osuna and Joel Cortez, were uneducated and lived in poverty. They left Mexico for a better way of life and for educational opportunities for Joel. It was a huge sacrifice for the family as they left their family, friends, and culture behind them. They knew coming to the U.S. would be challenging because they did not know the language, were unemployed, and were unfamiliar with the culture. Joel's future was more important to them than any challenge they would face as immigrants in a new country. 22 years later, they know they made the right choice in coming to American. They are proud of Joel for taking advantage of all the educational opportunities provided to him. Joel does not take their sacrifice for granted and is not complacent with how proud they are of him today. He wants to continue to make them more proud and he is ready to accomplish more extraordinary things in his educational and professional journey. Growing up, he always knew he would go to college and major in a STEM field because these classes always inspired him to think of the impossible.

Economic Challenges… After graduating from high school, Joel was accepted to Cal State San Bernardino and the University of La Verne. However, he was unable to attend either of them. Due to economic reasons his family and he were facing at the time, he attended a community college. This choice would allow him to afford school and be close to his family. Joel spent three years at the College of the Desert. It was disappointing for him not to be able to attend a 4-year university as he had planned to but he credits the community college for getting him interested in STEM. While completing his general education courses, he realized he enjoyed his math and science classes. He excelled in these courses and he thought he would eventually earn a degree in computer science.

Physics InspiredAfter completing his three years at College of the Desert, Joel was finally ready to transfer to a 4-year university. Again, he was accepted to various higher education institutions and decided to attend Cal State San Bernardino for the fall 2020 semester. He knew that campus would be an excellent fit for him. It was a university that would not burden him economically. In addition, he was accepted into the Cal-Bridge program​, a program he knew would support him in reaching his education and research goals. During Joel's first year at Cal State San Bernardino, he quickly learned that his true passion was physics. He wanted to learn everything about physics. He wanted to understand how things worked in the world and the mathematical problems one can use to solve them. He became fascinated with how physics helped the world organize the universe and he knew he wanted to be a part of that. He found that physics stimulated his creative side in positive ways. Physics also helped Joel see the world differently and inspired him to want to change and impact it positively. Physics also led him to become more interested in research projects. He sought opportunities at Cal State San Bernardino through the Cal-Bridge program to get more involved in research opportunities.

Staying Engaged During the Pandemic His research experience at Cal State San Bernardino was unique. Joel had transitioned into his first year on campus online during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic was still surging throughout most communities. Thus, most of his first-year experience was as a student online. The pandemic made his research opportunities somewhat limited. Yet, he was able to lean on his Cal-Bridge membership and took advantage of the program's resources. Cal-Bridge would host online workshops monthly to prep them for their semester curriculum and provide information about future research opportunities and internships. Although he was studying remotely, he was very active within the program. He stayed engaged, and eventually was assigned to two Cal-Bridge mentors, Dr.Matteo Crismani at CSUSB and Dr. Anson D'Aloisio of UC Riverside. The dual mentorship prepared him and encouraged him to apply to PhD programs. In addition, ​Dr. Matteo Crismani who saw a lot of potential in Joel and approached him about participating in his research. Joel agreed because developing research skills was important to him.

Research Experience... He found research challenging in the beginning. Joel struggled with how to read scientific journals and had to develop numerous skills he did not have at the time. He had to learn how to see things from a scientific perspective. He felt like quitting many times but with the help and encouragement of Dr. Crismani and the Cal-Bridge program, he was able to overcome many of those challenges. Eventually, Joel felt confident enough to present his research to an audience. When Dr. Crismani asked him if he wanted to participate in the STEM-NET Edison Student Research symposium, Joel agreed. Although he admitted he was nervous about presenting his research, he knew the experience would help expand his research growth. He presented his research on May 7th, and to his surprise, he had a great time. Since then, he has participated in three more research presentations. In the summer of 2021, he participated in the H&S Summer Research Symposium and presented the topic of light dark matter at Stanford University. That same summer, he participated in the Cal-Bridge Summer Research Symposium. He shared his research on light dark matter with incoming Cal-Bridge students to give them a glimpse of the type of research they can get involved in. In Fall 2021, he also presented his research on clouds on Mars at the Southern California Conference for Undergraduate Research (SCCUR) hosted by Cal State San Bernadino. He is currently still researching the topic of clouds on Mars with Dr. ​Crismani and is actively looking for future research presentation opportunities.

The Future… Joel will be graduating in May 2022 with a physics degree. He wants to continue his clouds on Mars research but it will depend on the Ph.D. programs he is accepted to. Joel is also very interested in dark matter or planetary science research opportunities in the future. He has applied to many Ph.D. programs but hopes to be accepted into UC Riverside. His goal is to become a physics professor or find a research position. Meanwhile, he is focusing on enjoying his last semester at Cal State San Bernadino. He is also grateful for programs such as Cal-Bridge and professors like Dr. Crismani because they were a massive part of him shifting from being uncomfortable with research to becoming comfortable with conducting research.​