Shannon Sweitzer’s success at UCR started the day she donned ballerina shoes and performed at University Theatre — as a 2-year-old.
Back then, all she wanted was dance like one of the characters in “The Nutcracker.”
Though her interests evolved, Sweitzer was familiar with the campus before she enrolled at UCR to pursue a mathematics degree. Throughout her education here, the 21-year-old Moreno Valley native achieved many triumphant moments, all worthy of a stage. A first-generation college student, Sweitzer was one of few females in her upper division math classes. Now, she is graduating with a 3.94 GPA and is the recipient of several national awards.
In 2017, she received the Barry Goldwater Scholarship, a program created to encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in math, the natural sciences, or engineering. In May, she received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program award. A few weeks ago, she accepted a Science, Math and Research for Transformation (SMART) scholarship, a United States Department of Defense program that will fully fund her doctoral studies at USC.
Sweitzer intends to pursue a five-year engineering program, focusing on operations research and optimization. Once she completes her degree, Sweitzer has a five-year work guarantee from the Department of Defense.
She’s considering a career in transportation optimization, an interest that derives from her father, a truck driver, who Sweitzer noted has also been her best teacher.
Of the many life lessons she’s gleaned through conversations with him, there’s one moment Sweitzer keeps especially close to heart: their first ocean fishing trip together when she was 8 years old.
The only girl on a boat departing from Redondo Beach, a fisherman wished her good luck by gifting her a Little Mermaid pin taken from his own hat, she recalled.
It worked. Sweitzer caught the first fish of the day, a mackerel. However, the tiny fish wasn’t big enough to keep.
“You’re supposed to throw it back into the ocean,” said Sweitzer, a student engagement coordinator for the office of Undergraduate Education.
She threw her line again. A few minutes later, she hooked a halibut. Her father helped, but mainly cheered her on, knowing she could reel in the fish. The struggle lasted at least 20 minutes, Sweitzer remembered with a chuckle, as the halibut was stuck under the boat.
“I was determined to pull it in. And then, the line broke,” she said. “And right then, my father said, ‘That’s just life. It happens.’ That moment, and his words, somehow stuck with me.”