Angela Fioretti ‘12 grew up in Wheat Ridge, Colo., and first visited the Gunnison Valley on a ski trip her junior year of high school. Before then, she was considering not going to college at all. She changed her mind quickly, however, after seeing the mountains that surround Western.
“I felt like the mountains were calling me,” Fioretti said. “And college was as good an excuse as any to go live in them.”
Now a Ph.D. candidate in Materials Science at Colorado School of Mines, Fioretti credits her career in science to Western, the Thornton Biology Research Program and the professors who helped her along the way.
Fioretti did not know what she wanted to study in college but knew she wanted to choose a field that would allow her to make a difference in the world by improving the environment. Freshman year, she landed in a Biology course for non-majors taught by Robin Bingham.
“[Bingham] opened the first day of class with a speech … about how if you really want to change the world, one of the most certain ways to do it is to become a scientist,” Fioretti said. “I actually got a little choked up in the back of the classroom. It was exactly what I needed to hear.”
Fioretti declared a Biology major less than a week later. That summer, she secured a Thornton-funded research assistantship with Biology professor Casie Osborne, who was studying the effects of endocrine disrupting compounds on early embryonic development. That fall, Osborne encouraged Fioretti to submit a Thornton research proposal based on the work Fioretti had performed over the summer. The submission was accepted and kicked off four years of successful Thornton funding bids.
“So many opportunities presented themselves once I became involved in undergraduate research,” Fioretti said. “Thornton showed me the contours of the academic-research world and gave me the tools to navigate it.”
Fioretti’s professors helped her connect with additional undergraduate research opportunities, including a Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) through the Department of Education. Fioretti worked on developing Earth-abundant solar absorber materials for photovoltaic cells at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory her second summer at SULI. Her Ph.D. thesis is focused on the same topic.
“Without coming to Western in the first place, none of my life as I know it would have happened,” she said.