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Great Starts: Tyler Bennett ’21
Tyler Bennett portrait on campus

Great Starts: Tyler Bennett ’21

From time to time, we like to showcase a new SNC grad who’s entered the workplace or grad school. Success stories like these are pretty common. In fact, 95 percent of SNC's Class of 2022 alumni who responded to a survey said they were employed, in grad school or doing service work within nine months of graduating.

Hometown: Wausau, Wis.
Graduation year: 2021
Degree: Physics/Math
Plans after graduation: Tyler attends the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a mechanical engineering graduate student and biomechanics research student.

When did you know you wanted to be a physics major?

I wasn’t allowed to watch TV as a kid, so I’d spend time taking things apart. I loved it. Then growing up I watched shows like “How It’s Made” and “MythBusters” with my dad, and that’s what led me onto the more technical side of things.

I came to SNC undecided about my major and never actually declared physics because I wasn’t entirely sure it was for me. I really struggled with whether it was the right thing. I thought I might want to be an engineer (but if you go to an engineering school, you’re just kind of stuck with it). I thought it would be a good idea to come here and make sure it’s what I wanted to do, because coming out of high school I didn’t know all that much about it.

Looking back at other options, it turns out that it was one of the better things I could have done. It was difficult during the time of uncertainty, but once you go through that uncertainty, you feel better at the end because you’re not blindly following something. I feel better now than if I had just said at the beginning, “I’m doing this,” and kept going through with it – never questioning. I ended up going into engineering, but I think I ended up in a totally different place — and I’m happier for it.

What do you mean by a “different place?”

Personally, I think the liberal arts exposure was great. It helped me realize the impact future engineering projects might have on people’s lives, rather than just focusing on the mathematical and technical aspects of a physics degree. For what I’m going into, the goal is to do bionics: working with people with physical disabilities and trying to make them function more easily in society, because I think a lot of times they’re overlooked. A bionic limb has mechanical muscles so people like veterans can walk normally. Classes outside of physics, like ethics, really helped me identify that as an issue that needed solving and not only discover a passion for the technical side of things, but also see there’s a purpose.

What were some highlights of your undergraduate experience?

I had a great opportunity to participate in research starting my freshman year as an undergraduate research fellow with Dr. Erik Brekke in the optical physics lab. I then got to continue this research full time over break through the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program, which was an amazing experience.

I also presented at the Undergraduate Research Forum, and again with Dr. Michael Olson at a national conference for computer coding for physics. (During one of my classes he thought I did something pretty cool, so I was able to present that over the summer instead of an internship.)

How did exploring a liberal arts curriculum help?

The biggest differentiator of a liberal arts education, I think, is that you can interconnect ideas between different disciplines easily and understand where others are coming from. Math and physics students tend to see things the same way because they’re looking at the world through the same lens. But people with different backgrounds might not see it the same way at all.

A foundation in liberal arts allows you to manage expectations when communicating scientific ideas to those who don’t have a science background. I also think it’ll help me eventually in management and possibly starting a business. If you’re doing big company research or research at a large organization, you’re talking to psychologists, the marketing and PR departments … you have to collaborate with all these people in order to put a product into development. English and political science classes also helped my writing abilities a lot!