This past summer Plattsburgh State senior geology and environmental science dual-major Patrick Montuori had an experience he never thought he would.
He filled out the online application, wrote two essays, sent his resume and got recommendations from his professors over last winter break.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration, commonly known as NASA, took Montuori as a summer intern for nine weeks in the Student Airborne Research Program, or SARP, in southern California. Only 32 undergraduate students from across the country were accepted into this program. Accompanying the student were graduate students mentors, researchers and scientists from NASA.
“Some smart kids I’ve talked to haven’t been able to get into these programs, so when I did hear back from NASA and heard I got it, I was ecstatic,” Montuori said.
PSUC Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Science Eric Leibensperger said the program is nationally competitive, and since having Montuori in two of his classes he knew the program matched some of his interests and knew he would be a strong applicant who would put together an “attractive” application.
“I knew he would thrive in this environment,” Leibensperger said. “I knew it was going to be a challenging application process, but Patrick is a good writer, and he did an excellent job putting it together.”
Montuori started his journey the third week of June, flying into California and traveling to just outside the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where the group would be doing their research.
The students were divided into four groups, each with a different topic. Montuori’s group’s focus was forest ecology of the Sierra Nevadas. The team looked at the effects of California’s drought on the mountain’s forests and their environments.
Montuori’s group used remote sensing tools to take reflections of light of the land’s surface from a plane at a high altitude. They used the intensity of the reflections at different wavelengths to collect physical, biological and ecological information to study the landscape.
“It was two days of flying over the mountains, three hour flights, and that was enough for me,” Montuori said. “You collect all this data, but to actually make sense out of it, you have to have something to tie it to at the actual sites you’re looking at from above.”
After collecting data on the plane, they collected ground data from the mountains. He said everyone was working with “massive” sets of data. Their next step was to put together their individual final projects, which they presented at the end of the summer.
“Everybody had their niche to work in when we were working on our projects. It was nice to have people around working with them, sharing your expertise a little bit,” Montuori said.
He said he never practiced a presentation more than this one, and by the time it was over he felt satisfied with his performance.
He said he only wished he had more time to develop his research.
“It was kind of a home run because it was the right program and the right student,” Leibensperger said.
PSUC Coordinator of Earth and Environmental Science Eileen Allen said Montuori is attentive, bright, but modest, “incredibly polite” and interested in the world around him.
Allen said Montuori was the perfect person for this opportunity because he has a “thirst for knowledge.”
“I’m so excited about the potentials for him,” Allen said. “I’m so proud of him because he went through that process to make the application, and he did it. It’s just amazing.”
Leibensperger said Montuori is very engaged and does everything he needs to do.
“One thing I really like about Patrick is that if he doesn’t understand something he’ll come ask, which is all that a professor can ask,” Leibensperger said.
Leibensperger said Montuori has always been willing to come do his work ahead of time and ask for help when he didn’t understand. He said he hopes Montuori has gained the experience of doing in-depth research and knowing what they day-to-day action of a scientist is because it is different from being in the classroom.
“Pat is the coolest guy I met up here,” roommate and senior Brenden Husted said.
Husted said he wasn’t sure what it was going to be like coming in freshman year. When he got his room assignment, Husted searched for Montuori on Facebook and learned his new roommate didn’t have an account, and he wondered what he had gotten himself into.
“We were friends from the start,” Husted said. “He was quiet, but he was funny.”
Montuori and Husted have been roommates since freshman year. Husted said the first time they played Mario together was when they realized they were best friends, and he said he’s never seen him act the way he did when he got the call that he was accepted to SARP.
“He didn’t know what to do with himself. He was ecstatic, red in the face,” Husted said. “He’s too modest. He’s quiet and introverted. He’s not going to talk about himself unless people ask him, so I did all the talking for him.”
Husted said he knew Montuori wasn’t going to tell anyone, so he told “literally everyone and their mothers.”
“We try to get the students into to these opportunities, but in all cases it is the student that gets themselves in. So Patrick’s work ethic and his capabilities is what got him in this position. We give them the means, but they run with it.”
Allen said he is a spark, a delight and a great student to have in the classroom.
“Throughout the whole process they’ve had faith in me and given me a lot of praise and support,” Montuori said. “I really feel like I owe them for that.”
He said if he had the opportunity to go to NASA again, he would do it in a heartbeat.
Email Lisa Scivolette at firstname.lastname@example.org