When Stephanie Milczarski, 25, of Montclair, a future physicist, walks at NJIT’s May 17, 2008 commencement in the Prudential Center, more than kudos may be on her mind. Milczarski didn’t arrive at NJIT until leaving a competitive physics program elsewhere, working full time several years and then slowly returning to academe as an NJIT undergraduate.
Nevertheless, she’ll walk this Saturday earning a physics degree concentrating in optical science and engineering and a minor in applied mathematics. Her honors include the 2007-2008 Anne Wiley Scholarship, the top honor presented yearly to an outstanding NJIT female student by the Murray Center for Women in Technology at NJIT. Her research project tied for third place this spring in the Provost’s Student Research Showcase, not an insignificant accomplishment considering that more than 50 projects were considered.
Milczarski has also served as research assistant in the NJIT physics department helping to develop and test a device to measure eye pressure through the eyelid for the improved monitoring and treatment of glaucoma. This summer she’ll continue.
Such success, though, was not always the case.
In 1999, Milczarski graduated early—at age 16—from Montclair High School at the top of her class and enrolled the following September as a research fellow in an elite physics and astronomy/astrophysics program at a large Michigan university. “She was a member of the telemetry team of the Icarus Satellite Project designing and building an endmass to serve as a stabilizing anchor for the NASA ProSEDS tether system,” her mom Ann-Marie Nazzaro explained.
By 2001, at age 18, despite the notable successes, Milczarski felt the need to leave Michigan. “The anonymity of the large campus really got to me. The classes were so large that there was no personal contact with faculty members. The desire to succeed left me because there appeared to be no one who cared,” she said.
She returned home and, to the shock of her amazed parents, searched for a job. She quickly found one. A leading NJ low-income housing developer—RPM Development Group—in Montclair hired her for office work. Eventually she would rise to supervise and manage the development and construction of residential and commercial building in statewide urban centers, holding the position until last fall.
Returning to the beginning, about two years after Milczarski started the office work, she started ruminating on returning to college. “There was a part of me that wanted to return to Michigan. But something kept holding me back from returning,” she said. Finally, her father William Milczarski, a professor of urban planning at Hunter College, suggested she take a couple of classes.
Enter NJIT and its small, warm, student-centered, nurturing faculty. One physics course at a time brought her back to the fold. “The professors supported me from day one, asking me about my future plans to make sure that I would take the right courses so I can pursue what really interested me.” Two years later, Milczarski enrolled as a full time NJIT student.
She would eventually find a fulfilling social life on campus, too. Milczarski served in the NJIT Student Senate as the physics department representative. She was also the public relations officer for the Society of Physics Students.
“I think these last two positions are important because some people my age would be fearful about returning to college thinking their chances had passed for a student experience,” she said. “And in the beginning I was one of those people. But it turns out, I was wrong. NJIT offers a rich student experience for everyone. You need only ask.”