Had you told Kiera Pond Augusto on their first day at The University of Winnipeg she would one day depart with sights set squarely on a physics doctorate, there wouldn’t have been even the slightest possibility she would have believed it. After all, it wasn’t the sciences that drew Pond Augusto to UWinnipeg in the first place; it was the Faculty of Education.
But one class, Introduction to Physics with professor Ian Burley, changed the entire direction of their academic career. Burley’s passion for the discipline was captivating and inspiring – and it gave Pond Augusto the confidence to pursue science in a way she hadn’t considered prior.
“I enjoyed physics in high school. It was always fun,” said Pond Augusto, whose studies focused on chemical physics and is graduating with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Physics. “But I fell into the trap of – not that women can’t do physics – but that I didn’t necessarily have a lot of female influences or anything in physics in my life. So, I kind of saw it as not necessarily for me.”
Ask those who have come to know Pond Augusto throughout their time at UWinnipeg, however, and it is beyond question she is among the myriad brilliant young minds working to diversify the field and inspire the next generation.
She is a recipient of several awards, including an NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award, and has assisted on three separate research projects, each of which heightened their love of physics. Most recently, she worked alongside Physics Professor and Canada Research Chair Dr. Jeff Martin on research that seeks to more accurately measure the electric dipole moment of the neutron.
And while their excellence in academics is part of what already elevates them to role-model status, it is, according Martin, Pond Augusto’s desire to effect change that will leave the most lasting impression. Of their own accord and in the interest of creating a more inclusionary field, she spoke to high school classes in Winnipeg and encouraged young students to pursue a career in the sciences. Martin said Pond Augusto inspired him to look differently at the department’s approach to outreach.
“I certainly never went into a high school to talk to a classroom full of high school students and answer their questions about what it’s like to go to university and what it’s like to be a scientist,” Martin said. “I couldn’t imagine myself doing it at that age. She’s a really special case and a special person to be able to go and engage people in that way. It’s amazing. I’ve learned how to do it over the years, but she’s at such an advanced level already.”
Pond Augusto also sought to build community at UWinnipeg, in part through serving as president of the UWinnipeg Physics Student Association, for which she developed the Physics Student Awards Night. By bringing students from multiple areas of study together though the organization of events and workshops, too, she helped students stay connected throughout the pandemic. It was, she said, an attempt to provide and cultivate the post-secondary experience despite COVID-19-related restrictions.
“She’s very empathetic with other students, she gets what being at The University of Winnipeg is about, what we’re trying to do,” said Chemistry professor Dr. Chris Wiebe, a member of Pond Augusto’s Honours project committee. “I really appreciate students who go above and beyond, especially during these tough times, and she’s willing to do that.”
It’s the hope of Pond Augusto those efforts will persist and potentially redouble once she’s moved on. And as she prepares for the next step along their educational journey at University of Toronto, she is also contemplating what the future will hold.
“I’m still exploring after my PhD what I’m going to do. Everything is, ‘Oh, PhD, Academia, Professor, right?’” said Pong Augusto. “But there’s so much more in industry, especially with physics, if I want to do atomic physics – I like working with lasers. There’s tons of industry work, working with developing new lasers, and I know people who have gone with that and developed cataract surgeries with lasers. It’s just a very broad field.”